On January 20, Americans will observe a federal holiday commemorating the birth of civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As an added element to this holiday, a call to action requests citizens to dedicate their time away from work with a day of volunteer service in their community.
So, rather than focusing on a specific charitable endeavor this month, I thought I would write a bit about my own personal experiences with volunteering.
I first became active in community service during my adolescence. The town I lived in was fairly new to me. I had moved there when I was twelve years old and had come from a situation with less than stellar circumstances. I arrived in a new place, knowing no one and having to adapt to a new home, a new family situation, and an entirely new way of life. I was tentative and anxious, but realized rather quickly that I was glad to have an opportunity to start my life over with a clean slate. I was fortunate enough to be welcomed into my new community with a kindness and compassion that I was largely unaccustomed to receiving.
Within a few months of arriving in this new place, I no longer felt a like stranger in a strange land. I made wonderful friends (many of whom remain friends to this day) and I thrived in my new school. I excelled in my studies and, as a result of this, I was inducted into the National Honor Society at my high school. One of the requirements of NHS membership was to volunteer a certain amount of time to community service. I started out by participating in local food drives and beach clean ups, and these hours spent helping my community sparked something within me. I enjoyed the work immensely and felt a sense of accomplishment every time I gave up a bit of personal time to do something important for the town that had nurtured me.
When I graduated from high school I did so with honors, and left for college a few months later having secured enough scholarship money from several local funders to fully cover my university expenses for five years. Once I began college, I had limited free time to spend on volunteer service, but I always kept thinking of ways I could eventually utilize my degree to serve others.
As I neared graduation, I made up my mind to return to the community that had, in many ways, saved me. Simply put, I wanted to offer my thanks for the town’s investment in me. The town itself is not a large one. The location is rural and often struggles to maintain a booming economy, making secure career work difficult to come by. Some considered my decision risky and made it clear to me how they felt about it.
Once again, I was fortunate. I returned home, and landed a job working in fundraising and development for one of the region’s largest non-profit facilities, where I’m proud to say I still remain today. I work with a dedicated crew of volunteers on a daily basis, some of whom are so eager to donate their time and talents to the organization that they will commute for hours from other parts of the state to do so. They will accept any task with alacrity and are constantly a source of inspiration to me.
Over the years, I have continued to volunteer my free time to several local causes – volunteering for the American Cancer Society, mentoring teen parents, promoting the performing arts, fundraising to develop ocean literacy programs for school children throughout my state and working to obtain affordable healthcare for women and children in my local area, among others. I have found great joy in donating both my time and my dollars to various organizations, and know that my life would be incomplete without these experiences.
There are so many worthy causes and so many needs to be met in our world. At times, it can be difficult to understand how one person can truly make a difference. But if nothing else in life, I have seen time and time again how just one action can radiate through a community and bring about life-altering change for those in need.
It truly is an amazing thing to witness, and something that never fails to remind me how much goodness there really is in the world.
The beauty of the National Day of Service is that everyone can participate, benefitting any cause they connect with and volunteering their time and talents in just the way they wish to. If you’ve been thinking of volunteering and are looking for a place to begin, this is a wonderful opportunity to do so.
For more information, you can visit the following Martin Luther King, Jr. Day sites:
I can think of no better way to begin the New Year than this.
Enjoy and Take Care,