Why does anyone volunteer? It’s easy to understand the happiness at the receiving end of a service: a hungry stomach is satisfied with a meal, or a painful abscessed tooth is removed. What is the value for the person providing the help? The reasons are as diverse as the countless opportunities to volunteer in our Thurston County community.
“Personally, I seek connection with others,” says Cathy Evans, who naturally finds ways to use her time to help others. She’ll bring in her neighbor’s recycle bin and deadhead the rhododendrons in the unkept spaces near her home. Cathy is the community engager for Unity of Olympia, coordinating people and activities. She assists with the set up for Build a Bus Home Shower Power Plus and washes the towels.
“I love to pull weeds,” shares Cathy, who supports the Phantom Gardeners at the church to find times to clean up the grounds together. “I value people’s need to be committed to a unit of others.” On Wednesdays, she collects lunches made by various church members for 40 people supported by 2828 Martin Way, Interfaith Works Homeless Services Program. She refers to this time as tailgating because the people who made the lunches that day like to visit for a while in the parking lot. They’re not eating the food; they’re connecting with each other.
Recently her neighbor approached her and asked, “I’m going into surgery. My wife can’t drive. Would you take me?” She said, “Yes.” Volunteering doesn’t have to involve lots of people or lots of time. It can be short and sweet. Cathy finds behind-the-scenes support like organizing holiday baskets or handwriting letters to get out the vote is important to her, too. “It makes me happy.”
“I do a gratitude journal every day,” says Mo Kiefert, “and when I volunteer it is easy to write something at night.” As an experienced hospice volunteer, Mo has found writing people’s life stories to be meaningful. Prompted with a list of over 100 questions, people get to talk about their childhoods, marriages, children, careers, special moments and the bits and pieces that add up to a life well lived. More than once Mo has heard relatives’ comment, “Gosh, I didn’t know that about my mom or dad.”
Mo works at the Stiles-Beach Barn, Panorama’s store that supports its Benevolent Fund. “It’s just grunt work,” she says but it gives her energy. “I find I can’t be down and volunteer at the same time,” she notes. She is an usher at Panorama’s auditorium and likes getting dressed up for the event. Mo is in CERT, Community Emergency Response Team, training and is an organizer on her floor of the building where she lives. She likes meeting all kinds of people. “Everybody is not like me,” laughs Mo, who appreciates difference among others. Mo believes that engaging with others is an opportunity to learn. “I can change my mind,” she says, even at my age.” Mo is living vibrantly in her 8th decade.
“I am the lead for the Low Vision Resource Center,” says Paul Swanda, who only joined the Host Lions Club in July 2020. “We are totally re-organizing the low vision resource center,” explains Paul. It fills his heart to see clients beaming with happiness at the help they receive. He is also serving as the Chair of Membership and a board member. Paul wants to remind you that the Host Lion’s annual Fuji apples sale comes every October.
“I feel a strong call to serve,” says Paul, who can also be found on Sunday mornings on the sound board for his church services. When he was asked about participating with the church board, he said yes.
Certainly, if you are not bound to a work schedule, your time might be more abundant and flexible. But there are ways for all ages of people with any schedule to find meaningful ways to help in our community. What is your heart’s call? Animals, seniors, children, clean food, politics, or something else?
“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they have the heart.”- Elizabeth Andrew
All the volunteers I spoke with reiterated that it was important to check out volunteer opportunities that fit you. “I repacked food at the food bank but stopped,” explains Paul, adding, “It was really not for me.” He found better fits elsewhere. “Sample the cookies! You’ll find your niche,” says Cathy.
I’m a foster parent with Thurston County Joint Animal Services and get to be the bridge between cats’ unfortunate circumstances and their forever homes. My skills are excellent, and my heart is filled. Sometimes, on my way home after dropping off my latest foster, you’d see me sobbing to the love song on the radio. And that’s okay. It’s what I signed up for. Maybe you’d rather make sandwiches or stack food. Volunteering is a priceless contribution.
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe
Need more ideas? Check out United Way of Thurston County, or your school district or spiritual home.