OpEd: Consider the Benefits of Volunteering

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It’s been said that “volunteers are society’s glue.” The act of volunteering offers relief and hope to the people who need that and that in turn provides social cohesion. There is no mission nobler than creating safe spaces for each other.

Did you know that New York State ranks 48th in rankings for volunteer rates but that the nonprofit community is an enormous contributor to the Long Island economy? Plus volunteers are the backbone of many of these groups that completely depend on them for needed programming.

How do you get started? First, ask what is your personal mission — the business card written on your heart that says what you are uniquely qualified to do? There is so much to choose from: Be an environmental advocate, become a volunteer firefighter or EMS, be a mentor to a young person who could benefit from your experience, teach literacy, join a soup kitchen, become a hospital volunteer, assist in youth sports, fundraise to combat disease, help train a service animal, join a board, support a military service family, and more.

Volunteer portals to research formal volunteering opportunities include livc.org, volunteermatch.org, 211li.org, newyorkersvolunteer.org, and idealist.org. Local libraries are also great sources for names of organizations seeking help. There is a process to onboarding volunteers so be patient with the steps that may include filling out an application, getting interviewed, having references checked, going to an orientation, and being trained for specific positions depending on the skills needed to provide the volunteer service.  

I believe that informal volunteering is just as critical to building community. Think of that option as random acts of kindness — donating food, picking up medicine for a sick neighbor, donating gently used items from cleaned-out closets, speaking up against discrimination, picking up trash, holding a door open, saying thank you for a service provided, paying for a cup of coffee for the person behind you, putting loose change in the red holiday bucket, thanking a veteran — there are plenty of chances that occur during the course of a day that invite you to advance the human condition.  

“Giving reveals the best part of ourselves,” many say. What a great time of year to consider ways to give back and reap larger rewards from moving out of your comfort zone. Volunteering also provides opportunities to model good behavior to family members and teach important social skills to young people in our lives.  Let’s pledge together to turn that low state national ranking around and roll up our sleeves. 

Here is one last quote with particular meaning to me: “Volunteering isn’t what you give; it’s not even what you get, it’s what you become.”

Diana O’Neill is the executive director of Long Island Volunteer Center.

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