By Auburn Cowman
Whether the task is simply to arrange chairs in an auditorium, selling tombola tickets from a booth at a charity function, or braving heaving seas at night in a small craft to rescue weary soldiers on a foreign shore, the cry for volunteers is hopeful, expectant that there will be a raising of hands.
Who are they and why do they respond?
Volunteering means an expenditure of time certainly, expertise, likely, and financial resources, quite possibly. There is even a risk of exposure to uncertain circumstances, not necessarily dangerous, but that could cause embarrassment in falling short of expectations. Quite often a response is hurried and without full appreciation of the cost. Clearly a volunteer is a special person, particularly if the cost is calculated, or indeed is not but followed through nevertheless. Ego is foregone for the betterment of someone else.
But volunteering has value to the volunteer. The above even suggests one factor—commitment is character-building. And it resonates, not only in the individual but with others. If the first experience is rewarding in any way—hopefully a sense of unselfish accomplishment—it encourages repetition. As well, there is a modelling effect.
Consider the six-year-old girl, skipping across the busy school intersection. “See,” she calls proudly to her little friend. “That’s my mommy holding the STOP sign. Hi mommy.” She waves cheerfully at the waiting motorists. Or the two little boys in uniform huddled at a draughty store entrance, waiting for shoppers to drop a can of beans into the Christmas box marked “Share-a-Meal”. “My dad,” says one seriously, “could so tell me I can wear long pants because he didn’t want my knees to turn blue”, pointing to a male bystander, “HE is the Scout Master!” And the harried shopper, overhearing this exchange, adds another can to the one she had anticipated donating.
The community benefits not only from the material blessing but from the connections. There is a camaraderie that develops among those engaged in an event that is worthwhile but without any expectation of personal gain. It frees the participants to appreciate each other. Friendships may flourish. Even the most temporary bonding is soul satisfying. And when danger is involved, as it was in the Dunkirk rescue mission, those bonds would last forever.
Less obvious, perhaps, is the emergence of unexpected talent. Volunteering out of one’s comfort zone offers an opportunity that may be life-changing. Perhaps one has studied voice but lacked the self-confidence to perform in public. In a school production it is opening night and one of the lead singers has laryngitis. You know her part. Do you volunteer? Discovering the innovative mind in a group can not only overcome challenges but can even inspire new goals. And chances are that individual will become a leader.
The foregoing supposes serendipity for volunteering—being in a certain place at a certain time.
Suppose, however, there is someone whose circumstances are isolating them. They no longer have a job or chores that demand their particular skills or time. This is not when the suggestion should be made at random “You should volunteer for something.”
It needs someone to actually volunteer his/ her time, over a cup of tea, to whisper confidentially, “I have offered to help at the bazaar next week but I really need someone to help with a display and you are good at that—do you suppose…”
There are a myriad of volunteer opportunities, of course, from picking up aspirin for a shut-in, to packing shelves in a food bank. The inequalities of life are all around us. What enriching experience may await, simply raising a hand when the call goes up. “Do I have any volunteers?”