Rewards are great for those who volunteer

December 12, 2012|By MARIE GILBERT |

'Tis the season for giving.

But not all gifts come in a neatly wrapped box with a bow. Many come from the heart in the form of volunteer work.

Whether you have one hour or loads of free time, opportunities abound in most communities for spreading a little holiday cheer.

Nonprofits, clubs and businesses all are in need of a helping hand, such as distributing toys to children in need or delivering meals to the homebound.

For those who answer the call and decide to volunteer, "they often receive more than they give," said Bernadette Wagner. "Their lives are enriched by enriching others."

As co-director of Volunteer Washington County (VWC), a clearinghouse for all aspects of area volunteerism, Wagner sees individuals on a daily basis who generously donate their time and energy.

But, during the holidays, people tend to be "especially aware of and grateful for family, health and material possessions. And, consequently, they also become aware of those who don't have as much for which to be thankful," she said.

For several months, Wagner's phone stays busy with calls from people who want to help brighten someone's holiday.

Many of the callers ask if they can adopt a family for whom they can provide gifts and food, she noted.

Because VWC strives to meet the needs of nonprofits rather than individual families, Wagner said she directs these callers to the Department of Social Services, religious institutions, The Salvation Army and other organizations in the VWC database.

But there still are many other opportunities to serve the community during the holidays and beyond and VWC's website makes it easy for volunteers and organizations to connect, Wagner said.

Prospective volunteers can register and provide information for a general online database, search by keyword and browse more than 500 nonprofit organizations and learn about the services they provide.

Wagner said people who contact Volunteer Washington County come from all backgrounds and ages.

"Different ages volunteer for different reasons, have different skills to offer and receive different benefits from volunteering," she said.

But they have one important thing in common. They all find it rewarding, Wagner said.

"Volunteer Washington County frequently hears from volunteers on how much they enjoy volunteering and not just during the holiday/Christmas season," she shared.

Among the comments VWC has received were those from a woman who volunteered at Potomac Center as a life guard and enjoyed seeing the smiles on the faces of the residents. A man who mentors teens said he liked knowing he's making a difference.

Wagner referenced David Richo, a well-known psychologist who talks about the "five A's" of a healthy relationship: acceptance, affection, allowing, appreciation and attention.

"I think these are the things that people receive from volunteering," she said.

While there are many opportunities to volunteer, according to Wagner, "Many groups, especially those that offer ongoing volunteer opportunities with children, require background checks and specialized training.

"My hope is that nonprofits will allow volunteers the chance to try a one-day volunteer experience with the hope that it is so positive the volunteers will want to establish a relationship with that organization," she added. "Regular volunteers are more reliable and also frequently become financial supporters of the organizations at which they volunteer."

For those interested in volunteering, Wagner said VWC offers a database, which lists volunteer opportunities throughout the year.

"VWC will soon be posting a list of volunteer opportunities for Washington County's Second Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and Celebration, which will be held on Monday, Jan. 21," Wagner said.

VWC is inviting organizations and groups to host a Sunday Supper the day MLK Day. 

Wagner said it's easy to do: "Get a group together, share a meal, reflect on Dr. King's call to service and articulate your plan to get involved."

Wagner noted that recent research indicates that people are more likely to follow through on their plans to volunteer if they have shared their intentions with someone else.

"I hope that after the meal, everybody decides to volunteer the next day," she said. "Although MLK Day is a federal holiday, VWC hopes that in Washington County, it will be a day on, not a day off."

According to Wagner, the day will provide individuals, government agencies, nonprofits and businesses "a chance to share their time, talents and treasure by responding to Dr. King's call to serve. Hopefully, MLK Day will be only the first day of community service in the new year.  VWC hopes every person finds the volunteer opportunity that matches their talents, passions and schedules."

If you volunteer

More information about opportunities to volunteer can be found at Volunteer Washington County's website:

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