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Giving Back During National Volunteer Week

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During National Volunteer Week (April 21-27 this year), organizations often recognize those whose efforts make a huge difference throughout the entire year. It's also a time when people look for opportunities to get involved in group projects to benefit others, and sometimes, they make a regular commitment going forward. Regardless of how their volunteerism starts, the important thing is that they have begun and often, once someone begins it then becomes a regular part of his or her life.

Having volunteered in one capacity or another, and sometimes several capacities at once, throughout my life, I feel strongly about service to others -- enough so that I think each of us has a solid responsibility to this world and particularly the community we live in to do our share to make it a better place. When you consider what a big difference even the smallest effort can make, imagine what it would be like if everyone took on a bit of the responsibility around us. If it's that simple, what's keeping people from volunteering? Consider this.

I had spent the morning with my Little Sister before dropping her off at a birthday party for one of her classmates. The venue was a large-scale indoor amusement facility with rides for younger children, a multitude of video games, skee ball, an indoor playground and lots more. There were tables throughout one area where individual parties were held. A staff member guided us to where the friend's celebration would be held. The birthday girl hadn't arrived yet, and a few of the adults made small talk as the kids meandered about and watched for their friend's arrival.

The woman next to me indicated that she wasn't sure who to be on the lookout for since the child with her was her niece and not her daughter. I responded by saying that I also didn't know the family since the youngster I was with was my Little Sister. The woman said, "Oh, you're a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters?" When I told her that I indeed was and that my Little and I had been together for four years, the woman responded with, "I never thought I was special enough to volunteer." I was taken aback and said, "It's not about being special; it's about sharing your time." Then a man walked in with a beautiful, big sheet cake and everyone turned to ooh and aah. The birthday girl had arrived and I was soon on my way home, leaving my Little to her party fun.

This woman's casual remark, said to a random stranger at that, skipped through my head all afternoon. I had never considered that someone would have to feel as if they were special enough to volunteer. I recalled a man several years earlier saying that he had always wanted to volunteer in a nonprofit effort I was involved in, but didn't think he any talents or skills to offer. Before I could say a word, another man said, "You've got two hands and sometimes that's all that's needed." And in reality, sometimes, it only takes one hand or maybe just someone's presence.

Yet her remark made me wonder if this woman believed that volunteers possessed special attributes that somehow identified them as volunteer material -- or maybe she just didn't have the self-confidence to consider what she did have to offer. While I certainly agree that not everyone is suited to every volunteer opportunity or need, there is definitely something out there for anyone that has a desire to help others. It's a matter of connecting to the right organization or opportunity. Sometimes it means going to a local town or city hall and asking about nonprofits or schools in the area that need assistance, or going online to sites like Volunteer Match to find the right fit.

We need to empower others to better understand that we all have something valuable to offer, even it's just a little bit of time and a pair of hands to help. Maybe it's a knowledge of Excel or the ability to crochet baby hats; it's a matter of understanding that our talents, our interests and especially our passions can help make a real difference, even if it only seems like a small thing we're doing.

It's not about being special. It's about being willing. And it's not about finding time; we're all busy. It's about making time.

I go back to the same thought -- if everyone just did a bit to lend a hand to others, imagine the world this could be. Consider volunteering. It's pretty amazing what it will do for your world, too.