As the turn of the calendar not only brings in the new year but a new decade, many people will have considered making a resolution: for example, one might resolve to change a less than-healthy habit, to be more active, less wasteful or more frugal. It is true that often our resolutions fade away and experts say that this is often because we want to achieve too much – we are not happy with small accomplishments. But what we consider to be a small accomplishment can often have expansive effects on our own lives and on the lives of others. My thoughts turn to the benefits of volunteering and the great need for volunteers.
The benefits of volunteering to the individual volunteer are well documented in various studies in different fields. A positive relationship between the volunteer activities of older adults and improved physical and emotional health, life-satisfaction and social integration have been demonstrated. Making a difference in the lives of other people, feeling valued and contributing to the well-being of society is identified as an important benefit by most volunteers. Students and young adults volunteers also identify important short and long-term benefits of volunteering. Young volunteers can gain experience and skills that improve their employment opportunities, their academic qualifications and create a sense of civic responsibility: helping other people and contributing to the well-being of society is important to them as well. In other words, it is well documented that volunteering benefits a great many people, from the person doing the volunteer work, to the person receiving it, to the society at large. Volunteer efforts both small and large have positive effects for the individual volunteer and far beyond.
Volunteering is a gift to our neighbour; it is an act of caring and generosity. Without it many organizations would not be able to function; without it many people would be without help. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says that whatever we do for one another, whatever caring we show to one another, whatever help or support we give to one another, we do it for him. The effects of giving freely of our time and our energy and our effort to support and care for others, even in what seems the smallest way, can have ripple effects for the good of others – for the good of creation – into eternity.