As a young girl, I dreamed of being a Candy Striper. I admit that I didn’t know much about what Candy Stripers actually did; I was after the uniform! There was something about those young ladies in the pink-and-white striped dresses that seemed so grown-up. Years later, when I was old enough to understand that Candy Stripers were teenage girls who volunteered at hospitals, the uniform no longer intrigued me — but volunteering did.
I was inspired by my parents, who were active in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s – the biggest volunteer effort in modern history. I got involved at church and in school, I visited the elderly in the afternoon, I would clean up the neighborhood on the weekend, and I would tutor kindergarteners. I sold brownies and washed cars. For me, those activities became as much a part of growing up as football games and midterm exams.
My experience confirms what research tells us: If you grow up volunteering as a young person, you become an adult who volunteers. And most leaders start as young volunteers!
According to the federal Corporation for National and Community Service:
- Approximately 63 million Americans volunteer each year.
- Young people under age 24 comprise about 23 percent of all volunteers.
- Volunteers contribute about 8 billion hours of their time annually.
- With the value of a volunteer’s time estimated at $24 an hour, American volunteers contribute about $193 billion in labor each year to our nation.
Here are five great reasons why future leaders should get involved in volunteering.
- Volunteers explore and gain expertise in subjects they are passionate about.
- Volunteers develop valuable networks as they meet people with similar interests.
- By giving to others, volunteers make investments that will pay off when they need help.
- Volunteers sharpen their skills and learn about areas that lead to new career opportunities.
- Volunteers gain the satisfaction of giving back to their communities and making the world better.
I learned a lot about making the world better when I suddenly had the chance to work with a senior statesman. One afternoon, as a young regional executive at the United Way, I got a phone call from former Michigan Governor George Romney. The retired governor shocked me by telling me that he wanted to meet with me to share a new vision of his. Despite the fact that he was in his 80s, Gov. Romney was a bundle of energy as he talked about a new Volunteer Leadership Coalition that would attract new recruits for community activism. His slogan for the effort — “Money helps, but people solve problems” — had a big impact on me and others who worked with him on the project over the next three years. I learned that the real magic is in bringing people together to solve problems in communities. That’s what volunteering is all about.
Bottom Line: Volunteering becomes a habit that helps the giver as much as the recipient. I like what Winston Churchill said: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
Hear episode #11 of Ignite2Impact as I tell more personal stories.