Though I’m typically one of those annoying people who can see the bright side of everything, the silver lining has been hard to find for the past couple weeks. It seems that everywhere I look, people are going through hard times. Illnesses both physical and mental, paranoia, hunger, abuse, financial difficulties, death, earthquakes, tsunamis, freakin’ nuclear meltdowns…
Every morning after I crawl out of bed and drunk-walk downstairs, I grab the newspaper from the mailbox and wake up while reading it and munching on breakfast. It never fails that I feel incredibly guilty, living in my safe little bubble and eating a gourmet meal of toast and jam, while skimming through the plights of others. Most of the time I can’t even bring myself to read the most horrific of the stories… On one page there’s a child-abuse ring busted. On another, a mother is weeping for her babies who have been swept away by a tidal wave. I simply swallow my feelings like the lump in my throat and move on to something light – the arts section- perfect. I sometimes wonder how I got so lucky that I’m allowed to be so naive. I also sometimes wonder if maybe my luck is an illusion and there’s a tragedy just waiting around the corner. Who wants to allow that kind of negativity into their hearts? Not I. Swallow it and move on to something light.
Here’s a sad fact. Did you know that in Canada, 12% of the population is responsible for 78% of all volunteer hours? Also, you may know that it is predicted that by 2035, due to low-birth rates and the baby boom phenomenon, the number of adults ages 65 and older will be almost double that of children. Unfortunately this also means that once these old timers kick the bucket (there just isn’t a kind way to say that), the replacement rate for volunteers will also be slashed since this particular age bracket happens to be one of the largest groups of volunteers.
But why volunteer at all? What’s the big deal anyway? I think it’s pretty obvious how volunteering can benefit organizations, communities and people, but it can also greatly impact the individual volunteer. Volunteering helps build communication skills, problem solving skills and other life skills. It builds self-esteem, responsibility and grows friendships and networks. It also gives a person that warm and fuzzy confidence that can only be acquired by selflessly helping others.
We’ve come to the point in my little blurb where I call you all to action. I’m certainly not likely to take a giant leap and start volunteering at soup kitchens or donating thousands of dollars to a charity and I don’t expect anyone else to either (though if you do such things, you deserve more than a pat on the back). I prefer more of a baby-steps approach to change. I’m simply going to start reading. I’m going to stop hiding from the truth that’s out there, stop burying its ugliness and I’m going to face it head-on. I’m going to stop protecting myself from my guilt – the guilt of being a middle-class mom whose focus has become far too self-and-family-centered – because the first step toward change is to own up to the fact that there is a problem in the first place.
Not only am I going to stop burying my head in the sand, but I am going to do more to engage my kids. According to Statistics Canada, kids whose parents are volunteers are significantly more likely to volunteer themselves. Kids who volunteer as children were even more likely to continue to volunteer as teens and adults. Take your kids out this spring, give them a bag and watch as they pitch in to help clean the streets and sidewalks of debris. Bake some dog treats and bring them to a local shelter. Bring them to a local nursing home or hospital to cheer up the residents. Teach them that loving each other and the planet is everyone’s responsibility.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can volunteer both in your community and abroad, visit the following links: