“Chips? Salad? Would you like dressing on that?”
It took me twenty-four years before I volunteered for the first time at a breakfast program. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy volunteering. Yet as I got older, I found myself hoarding my free time, especially on the weekends. In high school, when twenty service hours were required, I volunteered over 300 hours at my local library. Even in college, I was able to commit to the occasional volunteer opportunity.
“Too Busy” to Volunteer
As time went on, I volunteered less and less. Fast forward to a post-college life, working every weekday. Weekends were my time. I could sleep in, eating brunch or binge on my favorite shows (This is Us, anyone?). As good as those options were, I felt a tugging on my heart. Living my life purely for me wasn’t fulfilling. Isaiah 58:10 says:
If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.
I finally accepted an opportunity to give a couple hours of my time on a Saturday morning. As I jumped back and forth between dishing out chips and salad, I found myself realizing that this activity was not only giving me joy, but I could see the joy and thankfulness in the people I was serving. For me, it was a couple hours prepping food and serving it. For those being served a meal when they might have gone without, it was a sincere gift of time.
In Pope Francis’ address on The Jubilee of Volunteer Workers, he said:
You express one of the most noble desires of the human heart, making a suffering person feel loved. In the different contexts of need of so many people, your presence is the hand of Christ held out to all, and reaching all.
Simple Ways to Start Volunteering
Volunteering blesses in so many different ways, both those who serve and those being served. It is a true giving of self in time and effort, and is truly worth the commitment.
Here are some suggestions on ways to get involved in volunteering.
1. Find a cause you are passionate about.
This is easily the most important step. Whether your passion is helping the homeless, the homebound, the elderly, at a youth group, or at an animal shelter, finding the right cause can motivate you to greatness and will help you stay committed. Look for volunteering opportunities in your parish bulletin or on the parish website. You can also visit the location or website of a local animal shelter. Try searching your city’s website. Libraries and park services are usually looking for volunteers, especially in the spring and summer months. Ask friends where they volunteer! Chances are they could use an extra pair of hands.
2. Investigate opportunities that match your schedule.
Now that you’ve found a cause, find out how you can integrate the activity into your schedule. Try a different prospects and get outside of your comfort zone before settling into a new routine! Set reasonable expectations for yourself. Don’t stretch yourself too thin, especially at first. If you’re worried that you don’t have enough time to devote to a cause on a weekly basis, try a monthly commitment, or even volunteer as an on-call sub.
3. Dig in and commit.
Here’s the big one. Sign up for a time. Put your name on the list. Write it down in your planner. Commit to giving the time and making it happen.
Pope Francis reminds us:
Be always happy and full of joy in the service you give, but never presume to think that you are superior to others. Instead, let your work of mercy be a humble and eloquent continuation of Jesus’ presence who continues to bend down to our level to take care of the ones who suffer. For love ‘builds up’ (1 Corinthians 8:1), day after day helping our communities to be signs of fraternal communion.
I encourage you to take a moment and reflect on how you might get involved. It’s easy to find an excuse for why there isn’t enough time in your week, so challenge yourself to find a time and make it happen. Don’t wait. Get involved. You’ll be glad you did.
Do you volunteer anywhere? What do you love most about it?
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Annie Koppes is a California native currently living in the Sunflower State. She works for a radio station, and recording commercials are her favorite part of her job. She loves the color yellow, exploring new cities, iced coffee, and reading. Chick-fil-A is her all-time favorite restaurant and her devotion to it borders on obsession.