Opinion: The value of volunteering

April is National Volunteer Month — to honor that, Darien resident Peter Eder talks about the value of volunteering. 

A confluence of events make the value of volunteering all the more important … and rewarding. Safety nets are being frayed by constraining budgets, by less focus on the common good, by social behavior that tends to isolate individuals, by life styles that demand constant change and self-satisfaction. On the positive side, as we live longer, as we retire earlier, as we come to re-realize the importance and value of community inclusiveness, volunteering becomes more attractive.

There are four components of volunteering: Talent, time, treasure and testimony, not necessarily separate or in any sequence of importance.

Allow me to offer a simple primer on the subject.

Talent. Each one of us has a unique array of skills. Sharing what we have learned to do well, or offering an openness to learning in the process of helping others. It can be used to enhance and enrich programs. And skills aren’t just knowledge based … a great listener, a compassionate responder is every bit as important as a professional graphic artist willing to share expertize.

Time. Here is a wide range of options… from daily minutes to all day support, from one-time events to ongoing programs …to utilize. What is important is to determine an ongoing commitment and to honor that commitment so that the time can be reliably counted on and planned for.

Treasure. … A voluntary commitment of monetary support is another aspect of volunteering. Perhaps one’s time is considered too precious to donate as a volunteer, then monetary support can be an effective alternative … to allow an organization to purchase tools and services to accomplish its mission.

Testimony. This is often an under-considered element. But a volunteer who can speak and write with conviction, passion and knowledge can help an organization immeasurably. A volunteer, speaking, photographing, emailing, texting, tweeting with certainty and compassion can animate important causes. And add a note of sincerity.

The Value to Oneself:

Volunteering can be a source of increasing personal worth. It can hone one’s current skills in a new environment or expand someone’s horizon by tackling new areas. It can be used to expand a social circle … to make new friends or build on old friendships. It can be a form of giving back … or paying forward. Volunteering can be used to help an existing cause gain extra strength, or perhaps create a new support system for a previously unrecognized need.

Getting Started:

To find a cause, there are a great number of resources. In town, the houses of worship, the town’s social services department, hospitals, schools, not-for profit institutions are great places to start. For a broader scope, national organizations like AARP provide a significant array of volunteer opportunities. It’s important to learn about the existing organization … to see if its goals mirror yours, if you will be comfortable in that environment. Make sure you understand the organization’s needs and expectations. Learn its history, its charter and objectives. Determine what if any training might be needed or provided. It’s so much more fun and effective to be prepared.

In Connecticut alone, you will be joining almost 914,000 volunteers who contributed 71.5 million hours of service in the last year. These volunteer services were worth an estimated $1.7 billion.

Peter F. Eder and his family are long-time residents of Darien, CT. Peter volunteers his time for a number of local, state and national organizations, and was the 2017 AARP Connecticut Andrus Award winner for volunteerism in that state