By Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro
The holiday season is here. And with the season of giving in full swing, it’s a time for reflection and a time for sharing.
It’s also a time to take a moment to think about doing good work for good causes. And what better way to do that than by giving your time and talents through volunteering. The old saying “ you get what you give” still stands true today. Giving of yourself through your time and talents brings you back countless rewards. It makes a difference in so many lives, including yours.
Yes, the options can be overwhelming – and you may be tempted to put it off. There’s always a reason to delay. But I encourage you to make a commitment, to find a cause that speaks to you, and to give yourself to it.
There are so many benefits to volunteering.
Volunteering makes a difference.
Too often, I hear people say that they put off volunteering because they don’t believe their help is going to matter. They might ask, how much of a difference am I really making? What can I really do? Opportunities come in many different forms, but when you volunteer for a reputable organization, you can be assured that your hard work is making a difference.
Take United Way of Summit & Medina’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, for example. VITA provides free tax preparation services to residents of Summit and Medina counties, and this assistance is provided by trained volunteers. Last year, United Way’s roughly 100 VITA volunteers helped local residents claim more than $3 million in tax refunds.
On average, each VITA volunteer brought more than $30,000 into the local community over the course of a tax season. That’s money that can make a real difference in residents’ lives, helping them pay down debt, save for the future, or simply pay their bills.
Volunteering is good for your health.
Research shows that people who volunteer regularly report greater life satisfaction and overall health than non-volunteers.
The immediate benefits are most striking among older adults. After all, those who are over 65 are most vulnerable to the effects of illness and depression. But establishing a habit of volunteering earlier in life can provide a foundation for better health later on. In fact, states with higher rates of volunteer participation have lower mortality rates.
Then again, why should this surprise us? Anyone who has participated in a volunteer event, such as United Way of Summit & Medina’s annual Day of Action, knows the excitement (and the exercise) that can come from lending a hand to help your community.
Volunteering is the foundation of good leadership.
I’ve often heard it said, “If service is beneath you, then leadership is beyond you.” If you are a leader, or someone who aspires to become one, there is no better practice than volunteering.
Volunteering attunes you to the needs of others. It connects you with your community and puts you in touch with other driven, committed, and passionate individuals. It gives you opportunities to sharpen your ability to work as a team and hone your leadership skills. That kind of experience inspires confidence and earns the trust of others. It’s no wonder that all sorts of leaders, from CEOs to presidents, speak glowingly about the benefits of volunteering.
Want to learn more about leadership and the role volunteer-led organizations like United Way play in creating change across communities? Check out this recent blog post from United Way of Summit & Medina board member, William Considine.
Volunteering can be hard work, but it’s easy to get started.
Once you’ve made up your mind to volunteer, there are many local organizations that can benefit from your time. United Way of Summit & Medina is one of them, and I invite you to look into the many opportunities available – from helping prepare taxes with VITA to reading to children through the Family Resource Centers. You’re bound to find something that meets your interests and channels your talent into a positive impact for our community.
And if you aren’t sure what interests you most, sign up for United Way’s volunteer mailing list, so you’ll be among the first to find out when there’s a new volunteer opportunity.
This holiday season, give a lasting gift – one of volunteering.