The Power of Volunteerism
During my years in high school I found sanctuary by volunteering weekly to feed the snakes at Teatown. I looked forward to my volunteer time. It kept me busy, I met new people, it gave me the opportunity to learn new things and gain skills and experience. Even after I was hired at Teatown, I still made time to volunteer with Raptor Group and Nature Guides. In addition to volunteering at Teatown, I became involved with many other volunteer groups, including animal rescue, wildlife rehabilitation, emergency medical services and event management.
Volunteering has so many personal benefits. Above all is the feeling that you are helping someone or contributing to the community in a positive way. Personal growth through knowledge, skills and experience can be gained through volunteerism. Especially for the young and the elderly, volunteering provides a means to socialize, remain active and engaged, and stay occupied. Non-profit organizations and individuals worldwide benefit from volunteerism daily, whether it be providing life saving medical care or simply checking in on an elderly neighbor.
The Bureau of Labor reported that nearly 25% of the U.S. population (62,623 individuals) actively volunteered in 2015¹. Volunteerism has always been a large part of American culture. French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville was favorably impressed by the desire to come together with friends and neighbors to accomplish community, commercial and personal goals, that he saw during his travels to the U.S. in the 1830’s. He felt that this was an important foundation to democratic society.
According to the Bureau of Labor¹, volunteerism in America peaked between 2003-2005. Perhaps in response to the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01, many yearned for unity and felt the call to duty. Increased programs like senior internships, community service goals for scouts, mandatory community service for honor society or graduation requirements provided opportunities for young people to reap the benefits of volunteering. Since 2005, however, volunteerism has declined across all age groups. Despite the decline in the number of volunteers, the need has increased, especially in the nonprofit sector.
The Millennial generation are focused on career, putting family life on hold. The cost of living is higher and many people rely on working multiple jobs to get by, leaving little time for volunteer pursuits. The attitude towards volunteerism has also changed. There is less of a sense of duty. In some instances, it has become a novelty to say you’re a volunteer, whether or not you actually put in the time. My personal view is – volunteerism is a pay grade, not an attitude. I am fulfilling a volunteer job where someone is relying on me to show up and work. I am not getting paid, that is what makes it charitable. I take my volunteer positions as seriously as my paid positions. Someone is relying on me.
Another tragic event triggered a new wave of volunteers, this time from their own homes. The COVID-19 pandemic has left its mark all over the world. People looked to the community for support. In the beginning of the pandemic, when personal protective equipment (PPE) was scarce, volunteers donated PPE or homemade PPE and supplied it to front-line healthcare workers. Communities helped deliver meals to the homebound. Supporters helped keep nonprofit organizations, like Teatown, afloat.
It doesn’t take much to volunteer. You’ll find it satisfying in your heart and soul. You’ll make new friends, learn new things and develop skills. You’ll help someone, or some organization in need.
Become a volunteer today. Visit www.teatown.org/volunteer to learn how to be a part of Teatown’s volunteer family. To find other volunteer opportunities, visit Volunteer New York (www.volunteernewyork.org) for local listings.
¹“VOLUNTEERING IN THE UNITED STATES”, BLS Bureau of Labor Statistics U.S. Department of Labor, February 25, 2016, USDL-16-0363
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Environmental Educator and Volunteer Coordinator
Elissa has been involved with Teatown for 26 years as a camper, volunteer, and staff member. She is a New York State Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator and a NYS/NREMT Paramedic. Elissa has many interests including herpetology, travel, photography, and learning new things.