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  • Writer's pictureLalita Dileep

Volunteering - the Engagement that keeps on giving

How the Pandemic reminded us that it is important to give back

Initial Impact

When the pandemic initially struck and the effects were felt the world over, everyone was looking for a silver lining, a blessing, something affirmative to hold on to. We found the living angels in the shape of paramedics, nurses and other essential workers who worked day and night with little regard for their own safety, tireless in the service of others. Many of us were left grappling with feelings of isolation and helplessness. Trying to seek ways to connect with others and uplift our own moods, we began to aspire for meaningful ways of engagement. Volunteerism finally gave us an impactful pathway out of the lethargic stupor as we began to look beyond themselves. We have long known the productive payoff that voluntary work and civic engagement have on an individual’s mental fitness and well-being. Research too confirms health benefits are leading motivators for community undertaking. But it took a global pandemic to buy in once again into the gratification of giving to others and looking beyond our own needs.

Small steps, significant rewards

Pix Credit: Rick Fischer

As folks rallied in small and big measure, an outpouring of solidarity came to the fore. Joined by a universal purpose, everyone reached out to neighbors to do chores, help with groceries, made masks and anything else that was needed joining others in working towards a common goal. In our community, we came together as part of our knitting group "Common Threads" to create an Afghan, that we were able to raffle and donate $1700 to the Franklin Food Bank. Judy Streger, whose enthusiasm and vision steers all the volunteers to create the squares for the Afghan and many more projects throughout the year says she imbibed the spirit of "giving" from her hardworking father who would always watch out for others.

Trash into Treasure

Volunteering has been seen to alter self perception, enhance and allow people to build confidence as well as self-esteem while they learn new skills. Experts and social workers are of the opinion that this may help to counteract low mood, by producing more reinforcing thinking. It has also been seen that volunteering can ratify one’s social identity, especially after other defining and important roles have diminished like after retirement, when one becomes an empty nester or when one loses a spouse or becomes divorced.

One such project I have been involved with is the Bed O Bag project that recycles plastic grocery bags to create portable plastic mats for homeless shelters. It not only saves the grocery bags from the landfills, but also brings warmth and comfort to the homeless. Engaging our hands and keeping our thoughts busy while watching TV or relaxing in the evening after work, we have a creative way to be engaged in helping others. Says Meena Shankar, who spearheads this project, " This project came to us during a time when mask making was winding down and the thought of using plastic bags for such a good cause instead of just recycling them gave us a second wind during a time of need". It was a simple ask but it rallied neighbors and strangers, young and old, who collected bags, sorted them out, made ropes out of them and finally hand crocheted them into plastic mats. A cause was born.

It Matters

As we introspect, pause and question ourselves about the quality of our lives and what we have contributed, I wonder where we will net out? While having fun, being with friends and surrounded by our loved ones gives us a sense of feeling "good" sometimes that can feel hollow, and not quite enough. Volunteering allows one to feel valued, to be aware that one "matters". Bathed in a consciousness of a Life well lived. A Life that would be remembered, valued and noticed. This in turn is linked to better self esteem, self acceptance and less depression. A Life led in service also allows one to see others' point of view and keeps us from being selfish, broadens one's perspectives and eventually conclude that it has been "worth it".

Share your stories as I would love to hear how giving back has changed your life for the better. The world is an exceptional place, made even more special by that simple mantra we taught our children when they were small, "sharing is caring".

We are stronger together


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