Thursday, April 7, 2016

Volunteer Culture Club

Did you know April 10 -16 is National Volunteer Week 2016?

National Volunteer Week recognizes the many people across the U.S. and Canada who share their time and resources to many different causes for the greater good of society as a whole.

My mother used to say that good manners are the glue that bind a society. Granted, she was usually telling me this when she wanted me to learn where various utensils should be placed on the table… but she was right. There are ties that bind us as friends, family, community, and culture. Now I instruct my own kids (with varying degrees of success) about how manners are really about making people comfortable. Individuals fortunate enough to have seen some of the world agree… While culture may determine whether you eat your dinner with a fork, chopsticks, or fingers – the ability to look at the person on the other side of the table and try to make him comfortable is universal.

Society or culture evolves just like animals and humans through time and need. Joseph Henrich for example says human evolution has been greatly dependent on sharing information. Henrich offers the example of cooking. The practice of cooking spread by social learning across our ancestral human populations. “Cooked food’ became a selective force that ultimately shrunk our digestive tracks, teeth, and stomachs. Who knew? If society relies on information to evolve then volunteers keep the info train moving.

I went back down the rabbit hole of research and discovered that volunteering provides another society-binding activity. There’s a great body of work to pull from about why exactly people volunteer but it seems to boil down to two reasons. One is symbolic and says volunteering is a display of values and beliefs through actions. The other is functional and says volunteering provides a match between a person’s psychological needs and particular personality traits.

There’s a third aspect about volunteering that is just beginning to be studied and that is the benefit to the volunteer. People who volunteer regularly are healthier, more alert, and happier than their less philanthropic brethren. In other words - doing good does a person good too.

This past weekend we met a friend of ours at the farmers market. His wife was out-of-town on business and he had the three and one-year-olds to himself. That’s a whole lot of kid with no backup on a weekend day that lacks the structure of the workweek. Just between us – this was not a good time for me to go off on a produce boondoggle. We were very much in the process of moving and I just didn’t think we had anything to offer our friend. But off we went. (Personality trait volunteer maybe?)

We didn’t do a lot, but for a little while he had another adult to talk to and to provide assistance. His kids were entertained by my children while the smells and colors of fresh produce, artisan breads, and newly-picked strawberries kept his kids from whining and arguing. Afterward we all felt energized and happy and it wasn’t completely from the berries. Even in our little microcosm - volunteering was a positive experience.

Habitat for Humanity runs on volunteers. We help families achieve miracles because caring individuals are willing to give their time and talents on construction sites to help strangers achieve the dream of home ownership. Our magnificent volunteers display their values through actions and because they believe in causes bigger than themselves and they recognize an inner need to help others.

National Volunteer Week provides the opportunity to bring awareness to the amazing contributions of volunteers and to encourage more people to donate their time to a local, national, or global cause. It started in Canada during WWII to celebrate women for their part in supporting the war and in the US in 1974. We urge you to take advantage of this week to nominate someone you admire for a volunteering award, share about your favorite cause on social media, and find an opportunity to volunteer yourself with Habitat Cabarrus or another cause that you feel strongly about.

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