As a young girl I would hear stories from my parents about people in need and I watched as they would help others. My first vivid memory of this was when our family chose to sponsor a young boy named David George who lived in Haiti. I didn't know a lot of what was happening, but I understood that there were children in the world who didn't have very much food or clothing and many didn't get to go to school. As a kid who loved school, I thought this was a crime against humanity.
My mom would also take me to seniors homes with Mr. Stockwell, the missionary that led my parents to a personal relationship with Christ and saved their lives and their marriage. Mr. Stockwell would conduct services at these homes for residents that couldn't make it to church and while I remember going as a school-age girl and making up actions on the spot to all the old hymns (imagine flailing arms and creative actions to "Mansion Over the Hilltop", Mami tells me that she brought me there when I was in a stroller.
Then there were the marches, March for Jesus (tie-dye shirts for the win!) and ProLife life chains outside abortion clinics.
At Mountainview I had the privilege of working with Mrs. Murdoch as she implemented a breakfast program for the needy kids in the community. While we didn't have lots of excess, I couldn't imagine going to school on an empty stomach. Mami always had those family-sized bags of generic brands of Cheerios and Fruit Loops (probably Honey O's and Fruity O's, real creative, eh?).
As I grew older my parents cultivated this heart of service and because of the great example I had, I have had the privilege to volunteer in many capacities: planting trees, picking up garbage, working with special needs kids, volunteering at the hospital, teaching Sunday School, mission trips, soup kitchens and organizing fundraisers.
Volunteering has been at the heart of who I am, as long as I can remember. I honestly cannot imagine life without volunteering and this isn't meant to be a "I'm so great" post, because I acknowledge that it is the power of the Holy Spirit and God working in me and for that, I am so thankful. I'm thankful to God for giving me a heart of compassion and I'm grateful to my parents for demonstrating love and service through actions.
Because volunteering has been a part of my life as long as I can remember, people often come to me for suggestions on where to volunteer. I'm humbled by this because to me it's just 'normal', but then I am reminded that not everyone had the same example as my parents. And it makes me so grateful for the parents I have (had). *side note: it makes me sad to write 'had' but instead of being sad I will be grateful I had my Papi for as long as I did (27 years). This does not mean I think others had bad parents, AT ALL. I just find that I can often look at other families and think "oh, how I wish I had this or that, like they did" (more siblings, closer siblings, a sister, less drama, grandfathers who delight in their granddaughters, that kind of stuff) and then I remember: my family is pretty freaking awesome.
It's always good to remember the blessings that our families of origin were (and continue to be) and to recognize that God works everything out for the good of those who love him. Every good and perfect gift (including our families) comes down from the Father of Lights.
If you had a bad family experience, I'm truly sorry. It doesn't mean that God doesn't love you, and that is so important to remember. God can be a father to the fatherless, something I am learning to experience.
I strongly encourage every person to experience life as a volunteer. High school students are required to "complete a minimum of 40 hours of community involvement activities as part of the requirements for an Ontario Secondary School Diploma. The purpose of the community involvement requirement is to encourage students to develop awareness and understanding of civic responsibility and of the role they can play and the contributions they can make in supporting and strengthening their communities." I don't know, perhaps I'm critical, but 40 hours hardly seems a lot - it's one work week, and if you have 4 years to complete it, that's 10 hours a year. And yet, students complain about volunteering and the burden it is to try and meet this requirement and how it's "not fair that they can't graduate without these stupid hours". This my friends, is what I think is wrong with society today. In four years, you have approximately 35040 hours, meaning that 40 hours of that is 0.11% of a student's life in those four years. I wish that more students had parents like mine, to teach them the importance of giving of yourself to those who are less fortunate.
And for those who feel that volunteering just "isn't for them". I would challenge you to expand your mind to fully appreciate what volunteering is and the vast array of opportunities. For example: the food banks in Hamilton need volunteers, Food4Kids is collecting donations; the Rotary Club of Ancaster is looking for volunteers for their Autumn Stroll 2013, the Burlington Art Centre is always looking for people to help at various events throughout the year and that's just 3 options. You don't even have to go somewhere organized, you can volunteer to organize a yard sale and donate the money to a charity of your choice, you can pick up garbage at your local playground, you can offer to babysit for a couple who cannot afford a babysitter.
I feel so passionately about volunteering and I wish that it was ingrained in the culture of our kids, and I don't know that waiting until they're in high school and mandating that they volunteer 40 hours is the way to do it. How do we cultivate a culture of service to others? What is your experience in volunteering? Join the conversation!
And if you've never volunteered or you don't know where to start, I hope you're not turned off by this passionate post, but instead you are encouraged to do something you've never done before. I truly wish that I could give up working for a living and just volunteer and my prayer is that others will find something they truly love and share that through service with others. In the words of my 8 year old self (pretending to be an Italian chef) "try it, you like it!".