Volunteer: You'll Get As Much As You Give

Kelly Nicholson  |   Tuesday Nov. 1st, 2022

"If I’m gonna work, I’m gonna get paid for it,” said my coworker. We had been talking about weekend plans over our thirty-minute lunch break when I mentioned I was volunteering that Saturday. I was really excited for the chance to do something different and meet new people. However, my excitement was lost on this individual, who was just looking forward to relaxing on the couch for two days. I certainly couldn’t blame them. Working on a factory floor for a week straight will drain you of all your energy and then some. Why work for free when you could be lounging in front of the TV with snacks?

Volunteering is not as simple as “working for free,” though. We punch timecards for a paycheck, but we volunteer to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. Sure, we typically do some kind of job while we’re donating our time, but it’s rarely stressful or strenuous. Sometimes we can even learn a new skill or make a new friend. At the end of the day, it’s all about what we can give back to our communities.

I realized how much I enjoyed volunteering a couple of summers ago. It started as a requirement for a certification course and turned into a way to incorporate variety into my stale work schedule. Over the course of several months, I cleaned up a section of the Madison River, checked entry tickets at a film festival, collected stream quality samples, and handed out Thanksgiving turkeys for the food bank. I knew I was helping good causes, and always left my volunteer shifts feeling humbled, and grateful for the experience.

When we volunteer, we go out of our way to meaningfully help and support others. Acts of service are one of the five love languages; we demonstrate how much we care about each other when we donate our time and labor, and, in turn, we are shown how small efforts can have big effects, and how making other people’s lives better makes ours more meaningful.

There are many ways to incorporate a gratitude practice into our daily lives besides volunteering. A simple internet search will list gratitude exercises, journal prompts, and guided apps, but none of those things are really necessary. The only thing required to feel the positive benefits of gratitude is intentional awareness of the good things around us.

Not every moment in life is beautiful, easy, fun, or enlightening. Sometimes life sucks. Y’all get out of here with your “good vibes only” rhetoric: life is hard, and glossing over pain with toxic positivity does no one any good. All emotions are valid, and meant to be felt. However, being grateful for small things when times are tough can help us start to heal. Gratitude can build resilience, and resilience can strengthen our spirits, helping us through difficult situations.

Communities face many challenges in today’s world, and are dependent on resilient citizens to keep them strong and healthy. In the age of individualism – the belief that we get through life based solely on our own efforts and decisions – community often comes last. We focus only on our own lives and what we are doing within them, failing to remember that our existence is built on shared knowledge, mutual support, and common values.

Humans are wired to connect with other humans. We are heavily influenced by our social environments, whether we like it or not. In the wake of a global pandemic that sequestered us to our homes and gave rise to a wave of introvert memes on the internet, a lot of us have just stopped putting in any social effort, and it shows. We are disconnected and divided. We refuse to help others out of fear, out of selfishness, out of spite. We only want to work if we’re getting paid.

Which brings us back to volunteering. My last volunteer shift was at the annual Fairy Village in Glen Lake Rotary Park in September. Want to know what my job was? I was tasked with sprinkling glitter (biodegradable!) in children’s hands and reminding them that fairies are shy, so we mustn’t touch the fairy houses or we’d scare them away. Seriously. Glitter, fairies, and kids.

Not all volunteer shifts are so glamorous, though: Bozeman’s Dog Poop Cleanup needs helpers every spring, and I’m willing to bet that they don’t get nearly as much help as they would like. Really though, y’all need to be picking up after your dog all through the year so these incredibly kind souls don’t have to spend an afternoon doing it for you. Talk about taking one for your community…

That being said, there are all sorts of rewarding opportunities around the valley to contribute to the greater good. You could write for a locally and independently published magazine (ahem, Bozeman Magazine!), befriend a lonely senior, help with the dinner service at the pay-what-you-can restaurant, mentor a local student, provide a foster home for an animal in need, participate in a trail maintenance day, help with a radio station fund drive, or accompany a disabled person on the ski hill. This is just a tiny list – there are a ton of volunteer needs in the area for people with all sorts of skill sets, interests, and availability.

So now that I’ve convinced you that volunteering is awesome, what will you do? The options are endless. Look for an organization with a mission you support, and reach out about potential volunteer positions. Whatever you do will be beneficial, and the people you will help will be grateful for your time and effort. You might just walk away grateful for them, too.   

“We don’t have the money
But I have a little time
I have a little light to work with.”

“Falling Son” - River Whyless

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