My wife and I were leaving home early one morning for a weekend getaway when she asked if we were going to keep with our usual travel tradition – one stop at a favored coffee shop for java to go, and another stop a mile further down the road for those same savory breakfast biscuits we always get before heading out of town.
This got me to thinking about traditions; we have many in our extended family. There’s the oyster roast the night before Thanksgiving, the annual summer trek to the same beach town we’ve gone to for years, the neighborhood picnic in the park on Labor Day. I love traditions; they give you a sense of history and continuity. In many ways, traditions help shape identity and character, not only for individuals, but families as well.
Another tradition our family has embraced is volunteering. Our two daughters have served orphans and the elderly through their schools and our church. My wife and I serve a women’s homeless shelter from time to time, and I mentor a fatherless young boy. We have all gained much from our time serving as volunteers.
What have we gained? We’ve discovered in this world there are needs that exceed our own and this prompts us to be more grateful for our blessings. We’ve discovered that life is still quite good as we choose to spend less time on ourselves and more time on others, and this prompts us to be less selfish with our time and treasure. We’ve discovered the joy of breaking barriers, seeing through stereotypes, conquering prejudices and overcoming fears. We’ve also enjoyed a few welcomed nights of restful sleep that only come after a day of hard work.
Just over one-fifth of Americans volunteer each year; that’s nearly 62 million people a year giving time and labor for the benefit of someone other than themselves. Three of ten Americans volunteer for two or more organizations at the same time. These volunteers spend about fifty hours a year (about an hour a week) volunteering for religious, educational or youth service, community service and health organizations.
While volunteerism can take many forms, most people serve as fundraisers, collecting, preparing or serving food, tutoring or teaching, acting as a coach or referee, or simply performing general labor such as landscaping or cleaning. Yet I’ve seen volunteers offer haircuts for the homeless, teach autistic children to plant and tend a garden, rock babies born with addictions to sleep in hospital nurseries, and so much more. The possibilities for anyone gifted with a good idea and a heart of grace are virtually unlimited.
While our record as volunteering Americans is impressive, we are still only talking about one in five people spending one in 168 hours a week volunteering. Image the impact in a community if more people volunteered and volunteered more hours per week. Imagine the impact in a community if everyone thought of volunteering as an opportunity instead of a sacrifice. Image how the world could change if everyone saw service as a lifestyle rather than a civic or religious duty!
Why not make volunteering a new family tradition? Why not give a Saturday morning a month to an organization all in your family can support and then work shoulder to shoulder on behalf of a mission and purpose greater than your usual Saturday morning routine? Why not?
Sure, it may be hard to get started, but once you begin serving an organization or cause you believe in, it will be even harder to stop. Don’t fail to start because you worry that you can’t do it all – you can do something. Don’t fail to start because you worry your efforts will have little impact – even if years pass, indeed your efforts will not be in vain. Don’t fail to start because you believe you have nothing to offer – indeed you do. Just ask someone who is lonely and needs a kind word.
However you choose to serve, I hope that you do serve. Speaking from my own experience as a volunteer and as a witness to thousands of volunteers at work, serving others offers rewards far greater than you might image. It can be life-changing, for you, your children, and many others. I hope you’ll soon see the proof yourself.
By the way, my wife and I did stop for that coffee and the biscuits. It’s a tradition.