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A Holiday Volunteer Story and How to Make Your Own

Homeless Shelter Food Line

When I was a little girl, my mother often took me to see a woman named Maisie. She was an older, Native American woman—hunched from age, one tooth remaining in an otherwise empty mouth. Wise and thoughtful, Maisie became a quick friend and when she died a year or so after I met her, I was heartbroken. She was the first major death in my life.

I thought that Maisie was just another of my mother’s friends, but visiting Maisie was volunteer work that my mother had taken on. She helped Maisie with cleaning, brought food by, and spent time talking. Though it was work on some level, my mother clearly didn’t see it that way and seemed happier after our visits.

Because of this experience, I grew up with an understanding of the profound impact of volunteer work—not just on the receiver but also on the volunteer. Later, when my own daughter was four years old, I found similar volunteer work in my community with a woman named Margot.

 

Creating my own holiday volunteer experience

A woman in her mid-sixties, Margot was lively, friendly, and bright but largely confined to a wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis. When I met Margot, it was nearing Christmas, so she asked if I’d help her decorate the house and, in particular, set up a small Christmas village in her window.

A few days later, I showed up with my daughter and we untangled lights and unwrapped the lovingly packaged Christmas town that replaced the tree Margot would have bought if she were able bodied. While I chatted with Margot, my daughter worked quietly by my side, occasionally whispering questions when she wasn’t sure where to put a house or a sleigh.

 

Mt Mansfield

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My daughter and I returned weekly after that and, over time, more often. And though I continued to help her make her bed, clean her dishes, get her cat to the vet, and more, it stopped feeling like volunteer work within a year. Despite the difference in our ages, she became a trusted confidante and a valued friend. And when she died in her early 70s, it was a loss like no other I have experienced to date.

There are many ways to volunteer time and not all volunteer experiences end in friendship but what I learned from my experiences with Maisie and Margot is that there are no losers in volunteer work. When we give of ourselves, we engage in an exchange that benefits both the giver and the receiver. And as the time for New Year’s resolutions arrives, I find myself looking back over my volunteer experiences, thinking that it is time to seek out another.

 

What about you? Are you interested in volunteering?

There are many ways to volunteer and the work you choose should be of personal interest to you. If you don’t do it out of love or compassion, you are less likely to enjoy it.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Write down all of the things that you care passionately about (animals, elderly, the environment, less fortunate neighbors, less fortunate people in other countries, etc.)
  • Search online for volunteer opportunities in-state or around the globe that will help you fulfill a need by following one (or more) of your passions.
  • Consider local opportunities that aren’t online (ask neighbors if they know people who need help, visit the local homeless shelter to see how you can help, put a query in the local listserve or Front Porch Forum to see if anyone needs help)
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