When speaking with volunteers about why they give their time to various organizations, I find that most all people engage in volunteerism because they want to make a difference – a difference in the world, a difference in their own community, or a difference in the life of another person, be it someone close to them, or someone they’ve never met. People want to leave a positive mark on the world.
My step-father taught me as a young girl to give what we had and to help people. As a young boy, one of ten siblings growing up poor, he had benefited from the good done by his community’s Salvation Army. He was given the opportunity to play sports and travel a few places because of that organization. He was forever grateful and as a result, he taught me to never pass a red kettle without dropping in some money. Many years later, I now find myself teaching the same thing to my young grandson.
I remember another time when I wasn’t more than 10 or 11 years old, going to the house of a family that Dad heard needed help. They had a daughter with severe brain damage and birth defects who could not move her own limbs. Several times a day, the family had volunteers come in and stand on either side of a table and “pattern” the young girl’s limbs. We would each hold an arm or leg and move them rhythmically to someone’s count in order to teach her brain how they should work.
That experience was one I’ll probably never forget for many reasons. One such reason was just how different this child was from me – she looked different, she behaved differently, her room was different and our interaction with her was different than anything I had known. Another reason for remembering the experience is because of the proximity we had to the person we were helping. We weren’t just seeing this little girl, we were touching her and literally moving her body. Touching this young girl who was so different than I, looking in her eyes and maneuvering her body was an unforgettable helping experience in my young life.
I recently heard Bryan Stevenson, Founder & Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative, speak from the Global Leadership Summit. He said that we’ve got to get proximate to the people who are suffering in order to understand them – that proximity helps reveal the answers to the problems. That’s a challenge for most of us because getting proximate with a problem may mean being close to those who are very different than we are. But how can we really give, really make a difference, if we don’t understand others? We have to touch a life, maneuver through it to really get it.
I never asked my Dad why we did some of the volunteer things that we did when I was growing up. I don’t recall him ever sharing a bible verse or a long explanation with me about the reasons to help others. I grew up thinking that we did it simply because we could. In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul is describing how the church is one body with many parts, and that all have given gifts to share. In verse 28 of chapter 12 he says, “And in the church God has appointed . . . . those able to help others, . . . .” (NIV). I think God has appointed us to help others simply because we can.
At Miracle Hill, our mission is for homeless children and adults to receive food and shelter with compassion, hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and move toward healthy relationships and stability. The children, women and men in our care benefit from volunteers who are simply able to help others. When you reach out and ask how you can help, you are touching a life and making a difference. When you volunteer…
- Counselors have time to counsel guests with life-threatening addictions.
- More than 650 men, women and children per day get to eat a hot meal in a safe place at a predictable time.
- Our guests have a place to live that is clean, organized, safe and feels like a home.
- Our guests have clothes to wear, books to read, warm bedding and someone to talk to.
- Our guests can get to medical appointments, church, court, the Department of Motor Vehicles and other places they need to be.
- Children in our care have fun, learn and feel cared for.
- Adults in our care gain dignity, build job skills and confidence – all needed to begin putting their lives back together.
- You bring community to people who feel isolated.
- You bring hope to the hopeless.
- You bring love to those who feel unloved.
I must warn you, however, that if you reach out and choose to get close to someone who is very different than you, and if you touch their life, if you dare to make a difference, you will never forget it. You will be different.