I know: ‘It’s the right thing to do.’ That’s really the best reason to volunteer. But how could I not be keenly aware of all the ways volunteering benefits ME?
It’s true that studies have shown scientifically that those who give and volunteer experience pleasure in their brain, are more satisfied with life, have better mental health (as long as they don’t take on so much that they become overwhelmed) and are generally happier as a result of their giving. Even in the little volunteering I’ve done, I have found all of these findings to be true. And it’s easy to see why.
For one thing I have found that you meet so many high-quality young adults in the process. If somebody told you that you could hang out with people in your age group who are kind and care about others (but are also cool and normal!), rather than just being focused on themselves and their careers, wouldn’t you want to hang out with them, too? When I attended my first JVC young adult meeting, I remember thinking, ‘How lucky am I that I get to meet with young adults who take time out of their evening to plan ways to help people and to get other young adults involved in doing the same?’
Secondly, I’ve had several of those meaningful moments that would make even the most macho guy feel touched in some way. There was the moment I witnessed the sheer joy on the faces of the special needs guests as they danced at the Special Connections Chanukah disco dance party. There was the moment I was able to help a Hampden Elementary first grader articulate a hard G sound for the first time, or the moment he got his first 100 on his spelling test, or the moment I discovered that both his father and I grew up in Park Heights. Who wouldn’t feel good as a result of such moments?
Another benefit I gain is a feeling of empowerment – the sense that I really have the power to contribute something significant. For example, the coordinators at the Jewish Big Brother Big Sister League ask me every few months to send out an email advertising the need for Big Brothers. But this time I decided I would try to do something more direct. By simply making a list of all the kind-hearted young men who came to mind and contacting them, five (so far) prospective Bigs have already signed on. That’s a pretty empowering feeling. Just some calls and emails, and I may have helped change the lives of 10 people!
One final reason I volunteer: it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s a Jewish thing to do. Volunteering at JVC events has helped me remain cognizant of the Jewish element. For instance, we begin JVC’s bi-monthly bingo night at Courtland Gardens nursing home with a short Jewish learning that relates to helping seniors, thus connecting us with an ancient Jewish tradition of giving.
I was once telling Rabbi Peretz Dinovitz, a longtime role model of mine, about how some of the young adults in the community put on a weekly Friday night minyan in the home of a young man who was homebound. I really admired that they were so thoughtful and made such a wonderful, melodious minyan for him to enjoy. But when I said, “It’s so nice that they do this for [the young man],” Rabbi Dinovitz retorted, “It’s not ‘nice!’ That’s what Yiddishkeit is!” It’s that kind of thinking that has helped me realize how important it is for us – not just as humans, but as Jews – to volunteer.
To find out how you too can reap the benefits of volunteering, please contact Rebecca Weinstock at Jewish Volunteer Connection at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-843-7566>>