Helping Hands Are Everywhere
BAXTER, a 15-year-old high school student, has an interesting way of spending his Saturday afternoons. He visits a group of older people, playing music and conducting sing-alongs at their retirement center. “He brings laughter, fun and the joy of life to the residents,” says Baxter’s teacher. Lucille, aged 78, performs a similar kindness. She distributes food among the needy and visits lonely hospital patients. A friend says of Lucille: “If the need is there and she can be of assistance, she’ll be there.”
This approach to life—‘Be there when the need is there’—is shared by many millions of people around the world. They offer a helping hand on construction sites and in offices, factories, nursing homes, hospices, refugee camps, centers for the homeless, fire departments, crisis centers, animal shelters, and more. They are virtually everywhere! They use their skills for activities that run the gamut from barn raising to fund-raising and from cuddling abandoned babies to soothing the terminally ill. They are volunteers—people who make a difference in the lives of those in need.
Volunteer work has been described as “a noble thought turned into action.” It involves such elements as commitment to a cause, a spirit of sacrifice, an absence of remuneration, and a display of altruism. “Volunteer service,” say two longtime volunteers, is “a giving of ourselves: of our time, our hands and feet, our ideas, our ability to help another person, our problem-solving skills, our professional knowledge.” Interestingly, such giving also benefits the volunteers themselves.—See the box “Volunteers Also Benefit.”
Growing Numbers—Growing Need
In the United States, an estimated 100 million people perform volunteer work—and their number is rising. “Our organization continues to grow at a tremendous pace,” Kathleen Behrens, executive director of the volunteer organization New York Cares, recently told Awake! “Last year alone, we had more than 5,000 new volunteers who joined our program.” European volunteer groups are seeing similar growth. In France, for instance, the number of volunteers has been growing by 6 percent each year during the past two decades. However, the need for more volunteers has not diminished. On the contrary, United Nations Volunteers (a UN agency) states that viewed globally, “the need for increased volunteer effort is greater today than ever.” Says a museum supervisor: “Volunteers are our life blood.”
Yet, there is a paradox. Even though many directors, managers, and coordinators working with volunteers feel that such ones are “worth their weight in gold,” much of the work of volunteers goes unrecognized. To begin to change that situation, the United Nations decided to use the year 2001 as a time for turning the spotlight on volunteer workers. The box “International Year of Volunteers” describes some of the goals the UN hopes to reach.
Meanwhile, changes are taking place in the world of volunteerism that present a challenge both for volunteers and for those who direct their work. Even so, there are still numerous individuals around the world who are willing to make a difference. What motivates them to do so? What do they accomplish? And how may they affect your life?
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Volunteers Also Benefit
“Reaching out to others has brought a deeper, richer, far more enjoyable reward than what I could have achieved by continuing to focus entirely on my business career,” says Michael, a part-time volunteer. Michael is not alone. Sharon Capeling-Alakija, executive coordinator of United Nations Volunteers, says: “Around the world people who . . . volunteer are fully aware of how much they gain from the experience.” Dr. Douglas M. Lawson, an expert on volunteer work, confirms that researchers have found that “often during just a few hours of volunteering a person’s general physiological demeanor and psychological well-being are so heightened that this has been nicknamed ‘The Helper’s High.’” And “helper’s high” is no fleeting feeling. Researchers at Cornell University in the United States studied a group of people for over 30 years and found that “those who volunteered were happier and healthier than those who did not.” Interestingly, the Bible states: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35; Proverbs 11:25.
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International Year of Volunteers
On November 20, 1997, the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed the year 2001 to be the “International Year of Volunteers,” (IYV 2001). According to the UN, there are four objectives to be achieved during the year.
Increased recognition Governments are encouraged to recognize the importance of volunteers by studying and recording their achievements and bestowing awards on outstanding volunteer activities.
Increased facilitation Countries are urged to encourage volunteerism by, for example, accepting volunteer service as an alternative to military service or providing certain tax exemptions.
Networking The media are invited to assist more in publicizing success stories of volunteer work. As a result, such projects could be replicated, “avoiding the need for each local community to reinvent the wheel.”
Promotion Volunteer organizations are encouraged to arrange exhibitions to inform the public about the benefits that society is reaping from volunteer work.
The UN hopes that IYV 2001 will result in more requests for the services of volunteers, in more offers from people to serve as volunteers, and in more funding and facilities for volunteer organizations to tackle society’s growing needs. A total of 123 governments have joined in sponsoring the objectives of this UN resolution.