Thursday, December 4, 2008

International Volunteer Day is December 5th

International Volunteer Day, also known as International Day for Economic and Social Development, was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 17, 1985. It has been celebrated each year since on December 5th.

It was crafted as a day to "recognize the contribution of volunteerism to peace and development;" a day when volunteer-utilizing organizations and volunteers of all stripes may promote their contributions to development at all levels: local, national and international.

"Volunteers...foster partnerships that develop the capacities of people and institutions, strengthen social cohesion and solidarity, and engage all stakeholders to promote the greater good."

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights administrator, Kemal Dervis

Perhaps you're thinking: What's the deal with volunteers, anyway? They don't get paid. They don't receive anything tangible in return. So what brings them to do these selfless acts? Some reasons many have given include:
  • contributing to the greater good
  • enriching their own lives
  • making a difference
  • developing a sense of connection, of belonging
  • fostering empowerment and engagement

Those things sound good, and I might like to help, you say, but I don't know where to start. Volunteers can be found working in many areas: government agencies, non-profit organizations, community groups, private can even volunteer online!

But wait, you say. I don't have any special skills. What could I possibly contribute? Volunteers don't have to be extraordinary. They just need to have a desire to help. Some simple, yet needed, things a volunteer can contribute: time, talents, labor and energy.

When people think of volunteers, many think of those who help during some type of major disaster, or who go off to far-flung places to help people in dire straits. But while those volunteers are desperately needed and much appreciated, there are many other ways that volunteers can impact people on a daily basis. For example:
  • Manning polling places during elections
  • Helping children succeed, learn, and have fun at school through tutoring, classroom help, or PTO/PTA involvement
  • Running activities in churches, synagogues, mosques or other houses of religion
  • Holding community offices of varying types - from local government to HOA's
  • Delivering meals to the elderly or shut-ins
  • Organizing fund-raisers for individuals, private groups, schools, communities, and towns
  • Helping staff aquariums, zoos, hospitals, and other public institutions
  • Coaching kids' sports teams
  • Helping people figure out how to prepare their taxes
  • Teaching after-school enrichment activities or classes
  • Serving on a board of directors for charities or non-profits
  • Helping run and organize scouting programs, 4-H, etc.
  • Serving as volunteer firefighters and EMT's
  • Running health or dental clinics for those without the means to afford that care otherwise

Maybe, though, you've already been volunteering, and didn't realize it. Often, volunteering is done on a much smaller scale:
  • A friend helps you move.
  • Some ladies from your church help with preparing your wedding feast.
  • Your neighbor steps in in a pinch to watch your kiddos for you.
  • Some kind soul helps you load groceries in your trunk since your hands are full with little ones.
  • A passing motorist stops to help you change your flat tire.
  • Your neighbors get together to bring meals after the birth of a baby, or the death of someone close to you.
  • Your kiddos help you lug all the holiday decorations out of storage.
  • Or perhaps, say, your computer-engineer brother spent hours (and hours) over the phone helping your non-computer-engineer self fix your, er, unruly computer... (Ahem.)

Volunteering engages you with family, friends, neighbors, community, town, state, country, maybe even the world. You become part of something bigger than yourself - even if it's only a little bit bigger. You experience a different kind of purpose. And most importantly, those whom you help are immensely grateful.

So on December 5, celebrate those who give their time to the service of others. And perhaps consider how you can join their ranks - because from the smallest gesture to the largest undertaking, volunteers are vital.

For more information, check out these sites: