The Benefits of Volunteering

by: Eric Baker, Community Outreach AmeriCorps VISTA Member

volunteer-hands-largeYou may not know this, but April is National Volunteer Month. A month in which we take time to reflect on our world around us, to observe the good and bad of our towns, cities, and ecosystems, and to take action in a way that we hope has a positive outcome for those we choose to serve.

I have been blessed with a life in which I have had the relative safety and foundation to give back. I spent the last year or more of my life dedicated to fulltime service via AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps. In the last year alone, I have performed prescribed burns in Iowa, rebuilt a children’s camp in rural Nebraska, community built in Wisconsin, refurbished low-income housing in Flint, Michigan, and served impoverished citizens in Hamilton, Ohio.

I now serve as an AmeriCorps VISTA with OpenWorld Learning here in Denver. VISTA is a yearlong placement with a governmental or nonprofit organization meant to build sustainability within the organization and better the surrounding community.  The work is less physically arduous but the altruistic, community-building purpose remains as virtuous as ever.

Myself, and many of my public service friends, have been asked time and again why it is that we choose to serve when we could be out getting “real jobs.” There are the practical reasons: education awards, travel, immense amounts of experience in very short periods of times, or simply having a guaranteed three meals a day. But beyond those realities, it comes back to the idea that our communities, our world, are stronger when we take the time to give back and show our appreciation for our opportunities through direct and meaningful action.

acvista_0In 2006, President-to-be Barack Obama spoke about something he called the “Empathy Gap.” He said, “You know, there’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit – the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through the eyes of those who are different from… When you think like this – when you choose to broaden your ambit of concern and empathize with the plight of others, whether they are close friends or distant strangers – it becomes harder not to act; harder not to help.”

It is a privilege to fill this deficit. It is our turn to learn about and act in communities beyond ourselves, to create bonds to worlds we never thought we would be apart of. There are many ways to give, but they often lack that exposure and empathy building that comes with getting one’s hands down in the literal and proverbial dirt. I don’t expect everyone to be able, let alone willing, to give years of their lives to volunteering, but this month, and all eleven others, I urge you to take the chance to go out, find a cause that stirs your soul, and give yourself to it, even if only for a day. The world you’ll see and the grace you’ll encounter will be all the payment you need.

Think you might want to volunteer with OWL? Learn more about our opportunities by clicking here.