By Laura Hoffpauir
Investing in yourself, your marriage, and your family helps to create a strong and healthy community, since families are the core unit of society. But it also works the other way. Strengthening your community benefits your family, and helping others is good for your soul. Volunteering together as a couple or as a family can strengthen those bonds. Investing in your community is investing in yourself and your family as well as outreach to other individuals and families.
There are so many different opportunities to serve. How do you find your thing? Consider your interests and the particular gifts and talents you have to share, and see where you find some overlap. Are you an indoor or outdoor person? Plants or animals? Babies or elderly? Luckily, everyone is different, so all needs can be served if we each serve where we feel called. Often our particular circumstances give us a connection to a certain community or cause.
Maybe you have a parent with Alzheimer’s, lost a spouse or child to cancer, were adopted or have adopted, have a friend or family member with a rare medical condition, or maybe your eyes have been opened to a particular inequity or injustice. Maybe you volunteer in your own neighborhood, or maybe you see big effects from the moderate amount of money you send to a family in a remote village in another country. Maybe you serve directly, or maybe you serve through a neighborhood association, your place of worship, a branch of government, or a charitable organization.
Consider your current situation. When I was a working mom, I had more money to donate to causes, but no time to get involved. When I was at home with young children, I had no money to donate, but I had more time and more of a need to get out of the house and let my wage-earning spouse have some time alone with our kids. It’s not a permanent decision. Your season in life changes, or sometimes it’s just that people, organizations, and needs come into your life and you might feel a tug to pivot. When the time comes for a change, it’s okay to leave things behind to new or younger volunteers.
Consider your time constraints, and be realistic about how much time you have to devote to a
cause. It’s important to me personally not to overcommit, because life has taught me that things come up. I always want to have the time and energy to help a friend or family
member with a sudden need. For this reason, I am much more likely to be interested in a one-time commitment than a recurring one, or a monthly commitment rather than a weekly one, and flexible rather than rigid commitments (where other volunteers can step in if needed). I have had standing weekly commitments to serve in the past, but I realize it’s not a good fit in my current stage of life. It also makes a big difference if a volunteer opportunity is something you can just show up to, or if it requires a lot of planning and prep work.
Don’t let yourself feel guilty if your level of commitment is not the same as someone else’s. What is a casual volunteer opportunity you enjoy when you can make it might be someone else’s main passion in life. They may have no idea about your health issues, family situation, and other commitments. Sometimes even when you say “yes” to something, you have to qualify it and say “no” to some of the details. Flip this scenario if you are the one recruiting volunteers. “No” doesn’t mean they don’t care about your cause. It often just means they don’t have the time right now, or there is some other cause they are as passionate about as you are about yours. Even within a certain cause some people are more drawn to one organization and approach than another. Don’t be discouraged, and never take a “no” as a sign of apathy.
Finally, never forget that it is just as important for you to be able to accept the service of others as it is for you to serve. If someone asks if they can bring you a meal after you’ve had a baby or when you or a family member are recovering from surgery or you’ve had a death in the family, accept humbly and graciously. You don’t NEED it, but admit that it would