Volunteering was a natural occupation of my time. I began volunteering in 2003 and continue to do so today. There are many different avenues to go down as a volunteer and every specialty you may enjoy is out there for the taking. Whether humanitarian needs, animal rescue, environmental, academic, or veteran support to note a few; there are basic activities that Americans and others spend a great deal of their personal time giving back to their communities. The majority of people I worked alongside as a volunteer retired from their former careers and had more the time to donate than many in their 20s to 40s. While that was true before the recession, in the past four years those numbers have moved a great deal toward a younger base. Both people who are unable to get employed and can function more effectively by staying sharp and working while they hunt for jobs, and professionals like myself who know that the need is far larger than the volunteer reserves in the USA if we don’t participate.
I will the first to admit however; that there are times that volunteering seems to be a daunting task on top of a job, family, etc., and it was vital personally that my spouse and my chain of command were both supportive in my efforts. During disaster response, which is my primary specialty, there are hardships that are required. For example, during Hurricanes Katrina, Irene and Isaac, I personally spent a great deal of time in a mass shelter on a cot. My back could take it being in good shape and in my mid-40s, but I can’t guarantee that for a 70 year old who has even low levels of Osteoporosis should go that route, but I know many who have and who didn’t regret it.
Multiple medical sources also indicate that Volunteering in general is physically and mentally rewarding overall. Often our personal stresses are reduced when we are working to resolve the stresses or problems of someone else. It provides every type of worker with more diverse perspective. If the only lens you ever look through is your own, you are a less effective communicator, manager, agent or analyst.
The most prevalent reason however is the gift of truly being able to improve the life of another human being. It often sneaks up on you when you least expect it even during a highly stressful volunteer experience when multiple people are hurt or traumatized and need someone to step up. For the federal employees who spent time in New York, Pennsylvania or DC during September 11th, they already have been on both sides of this. So have employees of multiple agencies affected by natural disasters from earthquakes, floods and mudslides to forest fires hurricanes and even a dangerous storm called a derecho. One additional reward is the knowledge and experience that makes us more prepared during any incident and a more active participant in the solution of any problem. It is absolutely better than watching an incident take place on a television and helplessly wondering what you can do to help at that point.
Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential. —Barack Obama