There is a true bounty of rewards in doing service for others. I have realized so many educational, empowering, and freeing encounters as a volunteer that I quickly developed a passion for the role of service. Remarkably, the benefits of volunteer work mostly go untold. Perhaps the word “work” triggers notions of stress or obligation. In contrast volunteer work is very liberating even though it is unpaid because it allows ordinary people to become familiar with different pressing concerns and explore problem solving in a supportive environment. In some cases the fruits of the work are immediately visible, for example, constructing a home for a needy family, which brings the satisfaction of improving the quality of life in a community. Since volunteer work is voluntary the terms of what is comfortable and rewarding are decided by each person that chooses to participate. I have changed the kind of volunteer work I do in accordance to changes in my skill level, work schedule, level of commitment, the issues I prioritize, and even according to seasons. The beauty of voluntary work is that everyone present is motivated and wants to produce a better reality.
The most fulfilling aspect of doing service is how much I learn in the process. I really enjoy meeting the new people around me at each organization. I also value a chance to understand the struggles that motivate them to seek or offer help. In one instance, I had the task to accompany three refugee women newly admitted into the US as they practiced their navigation skills on local transit. My purpose was to make sure we did not get impossibly lost. As we rode the city buses and trains I learned each woman’s distinctive sorrowful refugee story which she expressed with a lot of elegance and wit. That experience was over 10 years ago yet it remains a vivid and poignant memory for me. Volunteer work also teaches me about my own talents and biases along with fresh skills as I work with unique groups of people. It is inevitable too that I develop friendships with the organizers, other volunteers, and the clientele we serve because we share goals.
The warm volunteer environment is another major draw for me. Most volunteer sites are arranged to make people feel welcome without judgement. It is refreshing to see a special value placed on courtesy, respect, friendliness, gratitude, instead of competition, individualism, and profitability. I especially appreciate that service highlights the power of everyday actions and qualities to build dignity in a community. It is empowering as a volunteer to see the impact of average know-how mixed with compassion. It can save a life on a crisis hotline, feed a hungry family, or open a child’s eyes to her own talents and esteem. Volunteer work generates hope for everyone involved.