music painter
walking a dog

Dimitri takes my paper in his hands and gazes carefully at what I've typed. Together we confirm the words that echo his native language. The tall physically fit father of two girls is eager to attain English literacy and start his own business in Canada. He points to other words and after I explain their meaning in simple terms his face lights up in recognition. Two weeks ago his family asked me to volunteer some time to talk with Dimitri in English. We sit comfortably and chat in a public place.

All kinds of people volunteer their time and skills for many reasons. The other day I asked my neighbour, Jerry (not his real name) why he doesn't volunteer. His beautiful Buick sits in the driveway all day, so I queried the idea of him offering some inexpensive transportation for people in the community by signing up at a local charity.

“I won't do something for nothing!”

After that I promised myself I would never again offer unsolicited advice.

My Oxford Canadian dictionary defines a volunteer as follows: a person who voluntarily takes part in an enterprise or offers to undertake a task; a person who works for an organization voluntarily without pay. Volunteerism has a long history. It helped us win the wars. Without volunteers we couldn't run our hospitals. What about the many social and humanitarian groups stationed all over the world?

But in a way Jerry is right about getting paid for a service one performs. Besides isn't that the way we do things here? Although it may be incomprehensible to people like Jerry why millions of volunteers offer their services for free, there are many creditable reasons why people do volunteer. A few examples might be making a difference in someone elses life, helping the environment, feeling valued and part of a team, spending quality time away from work, or gaining confidence and self-esteem. According to a review at the University of Lampeter, England, volunteering has a positive impact on health. Imagine improving your quality of life through real time experiences!

Now there's something about being a caregiver for another human being that is different from any health care that physicians provide. For obvious reasons I see caregiving a little different than other kinds of volunteering because it often involves a family member. This caring goes beyond the volunteer work where the vulnerable are not involved. Caring for a frail or ill person alone consumes many hours a day and is an expression of love at a much deeper level. A volunteer might be stressed, but he or she usually has others and/or resources available. But a caregiver can be under constant stress with no one else to help or help with coping. The real downside is that when one is compelled to give himself totally to this care experience without a break, he or she runs the risk of ill health or burnout. Volunteers and caregivers especially need other volunteers to pitch in and with 44 million care givers in the USA alone relief from caregiver stress is paramount.

Whether your volunteer opportunities involve babysitting someone's pet, helping someone with their writing, or just singing a lullaby, your efforts cannot be forgotten. When the long-term consequences of laying a firm groundwork of English for folks like Dimitri is appreciated we can also begin to understand how it points to higher life success rates.

Now that you've thought about volunteering does it feel great or maybe a little scary that you could mean a whole lot to someone?©



November 15, 2015


James Kershaw


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Jim Kershaw says

November 15, 2015,

I think one has to have a genuine interest in reaching out to be an effective volunteer.

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