The Heart of a Volunteer

The fictional movie Pearl Harbor is based on the historical events in and around that early December Sunday morning in paradise when Japanese warplanes screamed across the peaceful skies of Hawaii and jolted America into World War II. Following the Pearl Harbor attack, Colonel Jimmy Doolittle was asked to lead a daring air raid on Tokyo. In one scene in the movie, potential pilots were lined up in a single row facing the Colonel. He asked them to take a look at the person on each side, telling them that one of them would not return from this mission. Then he asked for those volunteering for this dangerous and potentially deadly mission to step forward. Without hesitation all the men stepped forward. Countless people step forward each day to volunteer at schools, hospitals, nursing homes, churches, to feed the homeless, to deliver meals, to travel to places of disaster to offer a hand and hope. While many volunteers are specifically trained in the areas they work in, such as medicine, education, or emergency rescue, others serve on an as-needed basis and in any way they can help. These selfless acts of volunteering, the practice of people working on behalf of others or a particular cause without payment for their time and services, has been a part of American life for years. Today, more than just a fad, volunteering is a way of life. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 63.4 million people, or 26.8 percent of the population, volunteered through or for an organization at least once between September 2008 and September 2009. Volunteers have discovered a great way to meet others, to make social contacts, to keep busy, to have fun, and to keep from getting bored. People volunteer to promote good or improve the quality of life for others. It gives people, especially seniors, the opportunity to use talents and skills from years in the workplace. Often such acts benefit institutions that may not be able to hire someone like you. Volunteers have discovered the joy, the satisfaction, the thrill of giving their time and their talents. It does your heart good, not to mention your body. Helping others by meeting the physical and emotional needs of others has always had a boomerang effect. The good that you do for others comes back to you. Volunteering gives you an opportunity to change lives, including your own. Volunteering is a great way to cope with life. Donating your time is a great way to feel like you have the power to change things for the better. Volunteering allows you to look at life from a different perspective. Sometimes it’s easy to get consumed by worries. Volunteering lets you focus on other’s needs to see that one’s involvement in the world can be meaningful. Where does one start? Here are a few suggestions: Local institutions are always needing help, such as, libraries, museums, hospitals, park districts, tutoring programs. Serve Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless, volunteer at your local food bank, or distribute toys to kids. Your church, or other place of worship also may be able to use your help. Most animal shelters depend on volunteers to keep the cats and dogs happy and well exercised. (And when you’re walking rescued dogs, you get a workout too.) If you’re interested in politics, it’s a great way to find out how things work on the inside—whether it’s the President of the United States or your town mayor. Join a conservation group and help out with river preservation. Take part in a local park cleanup day. Lots of us are close to people who have a medical problem (like cancer, HIV, or diabetes, for example). It can feel good to donate your time to an organization that raises money for research, delivers meals, or offers other help to people with an illness. The possibilities are endless. Back to the movie Pearl Harbor. In another scene, following Doolittle’s request of the young pilots, the men were aboard the ship that transported them closer to their launch point. Doolittle said to a fellow officer while watching the young pilots, “There is nothing stronger than the heart of a volunteer.” Truly, there is not.

By Rick Ezell