A Summer of Opportunity
It’s a Long Summer
Right about now, both parents and kids are realizing there’s a lot of time left before school is back in session. While the first few weeks of summer vacation were a blessed relief from the grind of school wake-ups and homework, many families are now facing the all-too-familiar refrain of ‘I’m bored!’ Being generous with our time this summer can change boredom into a life-changing experience.
It’s Good for You
Several studies have found a link between volunteering and improved physical and mental health. In general, volunteers report that they feel physically better for having spent their time serving a cause they care about. They also report being happier and having an easier time managing stress. Certainly, serving others keeps you active, provides social interaction, and helps bolster confidence. One study even concluded that those who give selflessly to others live significantly longer.
Why Work for Free?
Those of us further along our life’s journey may find it easy to see the benefits of volunteer work. Yet, someone saving up for school, a house or young family, may find it harder to find the value in giving up their hard-earned free time and potential resources. Volunteering is not just a feel-good activity. Sure, you don’t get paid, but there’s so much more to be gained:
- In general, a good attitude and strong work ethic are the most important qualifications for a volunteer position. This provides opportunities to gain early experience and make contacts in a career field that interests you. Just as important, it gives you a chance to discover what you don’t like to do.
- On the flip side, volunteer work can open your eyes to a world you weren’t aware of before. Your hands-on experiences can ignite passion for an important cause. Something that you can support long-term.
- Volunteer positions usually offer free training, which gives you a chance to develop new skills. It is important to honour your commitment to the organization as well, so that you both benefit from the time and energy put into training.
- Volunteers usually have more control over how much time they give and when. This is especially important for families juggling summer schedules.
- Volunteering helps you to meet lots of new people, many of whom share the same interests you do. It is rare to find a volunteer just “phoning it in for the paycheque” because there isn’t one. Volunteering together might even be the foundation for building a lifelong friendship.
The Impact of Volunteering
Hugo Peters had always lived and worked in suburbia. In retirement, he decided that he wanted a component of his volunteer time to be spent somewhere he rubbed shoulders with a totally different set of people. Volunteering at Winnipeg Harvest Food Bank, he found himself working side-by-side with many people who he wouldn’t have met otherwise. People who were very poor, people who were working off their community service, and people who were homeless.
“They’re very interesting people,” observes Hugo, “It’s wonderfully enriching to understand what it’s like to live on the edge.” Hugo continues to engage with these brothers and sisters, while volunteering two days a week preparing income tax returns for people in need.
Ever a teacher, Hugo was delighted to share these experiences with his grandsons when they were growing up. “When I was driving for the food bank, I took each of them along.” The boys not only completed their volunteer service component for school, they got to share some quality time with their grandfather. “They still speak quite fondly of it,” says Hugo.
Volunteering provides a hands-on approach to causes we care about. The tangible physical, emotional, mental support you provide, can lead to the desire to give of your financial resources as well. Hugo’s lesson for the next generation is to give where they’re involved. “Start with your local church,” he says, “and then extend charity wherever you see the need”.
Do What You Love
Whether you’re spending afternoons helping at an animal shelter, serving pancakes at a community breakfast, chatting with seniors at your local care centre, or leading young campers in games and activities, the key to an impactful volunteer experience is giving your time to something you are passionate about. Once you have decided where you want to give, do some research about the options that are available. Then, take the leap! You can always start with a small commitment and grow from there.
Our world is filled with opportunities to give our time and talents to help others. Where will you give this summer?
Consider a Flexible Gifting Account with Abundance Canada to support your summer giving plans. Convenient, flexible and tailored for you!
Related Post: ‘What happens when you give?' – video
 Konrath, S., Fuhrel-Forbis, A., Lou, A., & Brown, S. (2012). Motives for volunteering are associated with mortality risk in older adults. Health Psychology, 31(1), 87-96. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0025226