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Why Don't We Volunteer? The 'Dare to Care'

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Get Involved! Volunteer! This administration's determination to address recession fallout spans beyond the reach of bail out dollars, and into old fashioned barn-raising, with a passionate call to service. The United We Serve campaign challenges all Americans to make a difference by doing "good" in their communities for 81 days, from June 22 -- September 11 and beyond.

"Make Volunteerism and community service part of your daily life, and part of the life of this nation," invites President Obama, "And I mean everyone."

Check out the President's short speech here:

It sounds good, right? But wait! I can hear the excuses buzzing already: "Well, umm, ahh, you know, the new episodes of WipeOut are coming on, work is so busy, summer is hectic, and money is tight - I just can't get involved." Sound familiar? Why don't we volunteer?

Here are some of the top reasons:

Not feeling qualified- "I don't know what to do."

Worried you will be sucked into paying a lot of money-"I can't afford to donate."

Afraid it will take too much time- "I am over committed right now as it is."

I have small kids and can't get away- "My giving bone is stretched to the max."

Not knowing where to go or what cause moves you- "Soup kitchens are not my thing."

Maybe we don't volunteer because of the WIFFM (What's In It For Me?) factor. Here's a reframe: does feeling happier, more contented and satisfied with your life intrigue you at all? Plenty of studies have shown those who volunteer actually have improved health, and trigger the same dopamine pleasure bath as when we eat our favorite foods or have sex with the one we love.

Yet most of us walk down the streets, lattes in hand, self-absorbed in our tweets and general activism apathy. Despite compelling evidence, I highly doubt swarms will start filling the streets with t-shirted volunteers, just because the President says we should. We have to feel a calling. We have to be pulled. Bottom line, we have to care.

Maybe Obama understands this, and created this volunteer "challenge" to get us out of the drone zone, and rolling up the proverbial sleeves. A fantastic start -- are you moving yet? Obama may call it United We Serve, but I am going to put out a "Dare to Care." Come on, give your time to someone or something that needs help this summer- I dare you!

Craig Newmark (founder of Craigslist), Google, UCLA, YouTube and others have collaborated on a web site called All For Good to help Americans overcome our volunteer objections, and make it happen in a big way. If you don't feel qualified, you will quickly see that even picking up trash counts, and any toddler would be proud to join in. Many options do not require any money, and even a small amount of time makes a huge difference. The site offers categories of potential interest, like Nature, Education and Health, with direct links to local opportunities in your neighborhood. No more excuses!

Here's some of the WIIFY (What's In It For You) in volunteering:

  • Meeting people you never would have met. Volunteering offers a vital experience of putting roots in the ground. Feeling a part of something larger than ourselves can transcend the heavy emotions of isolation and loneliness -- even once a month makes a difference.
  • Gaining Perspective on Your Own Troubles. No matter how hard life can be, there is always someone worse off than you are. Getting out of our personal mire for a while is healthy and therapeutic.
  • Having Fun! A non-profit in my area recently held a gigantic tag sale to raise urgent last minute funds, as well as to put household items in the hands of those who need them. Our format was unique: nothing had price tags, and no haggling. Everything was to be taken at will, and donations given by choice. Guess what? We raised far more than we imagined, and everyone walked away feeling good about it. Was it a lot of work? Yes. The volunteers were exhausted sorting mountains of stuff, eating cold pizza for dinner, drinking wine in paper cups, and all the while laughing our heads off. Who won? We all did.

If formal volunteering is not possible or of interest, does this mean you can't "dare to care?" How a about applying the President's challenge towards the daily with our families, friends, neighbors and co-workers? Make each day an opportunity to connect with someone in pain, lend a hand before being asked, or spread some joy in the daily doldrums.

Here's how you can be in service every day, without joining any organization at all:

  • Deliver dinner to a friend or neighbor in need; even a rotisserie chicken and bread is great.
  • Offer to baby sit a new mom's kids for an afternoon, and give her20 for a manicure and a Starbucks.
  • Mail a card once a week with a heart-felt message. After all no one sends anything to us 'snail mail' any more.

I would like to attribute this last idea to Huff Po reader Bill Burns, from Puget Island, WA, who sent me a card, out of the blue, this month. I was sure it was junk mail. Inside, Bill wrote that he read a few of my columns, and told me to "keep it up - you are doing important and good work." Bill tries to send a card every single day to someone who has touched his life, and ended the card with, "I know it sounds kinda goofy, but it helps me flourish and spreads gratitude."

I loved the simple idea of sending a card to a stranger. That is daring to care. That is a call to service. That is volunteering to make a difference in someone's life. Am I someone in need? Sure, I'm human, and we all need each other.

Marilyn Mock is someone who "Dared to Care," in a big way last year, when she saw a sobbing woman about to lose her house at a foreclosure auction. Gripped by fate, something made her raise her hand, and win the bid for $30K. Marilyn then turned around, and gave the house back to the crying stranger, assuring her to repay as she could. That single act has transformed Marilyn's life into creating a non-profit to help thousands of others called The Foreclosure Angel Foundation.

Come on Huff Po! Let's hear the myriad ways you have "Dared to Care," and how you intend to fulfill the United We Serve challenge. See you next week! If you would like to receive regular updates of this column, click on "Become a Fan," and see my blog at: www.karihenley.blogspot.com

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