This time of year, I often find myself thinking about our country and ways in which I can support my friends and family, my community, my country, or my world. Giving back is something many of us feel inclined to do, but we don’t always know how or where to begin.
Several years after moving to town, I realized I wanted to feel more connected to my religious community and make some friends—so, you guessed it, I volunteered. At first it was just committees, helping out with an event, stuffing some envelopes. Eventually that all led to being elected to a board position; still a volunteer role. I helped make decisions affecting my community and made a lot of friends in the process. It is funny, because even though I have made some good friends, I still enjoy giving back and continue to stay involved.
Over the last few summers, my now teenage son has chosen to volunteer at the Humane Society. When he first began, he assumed he would be playing with dogs all day… That notion was quashed his first day (once he had completed orientation); he does laundry, feeds, cleans—amazingly, things he seems unfamiliar with at home. When asked for more on this, he said the animals and workers there need help. He does what needs to be done. So at 14, he gets that idea of pitching in for a greater good.
We all need to experience this lesson, and the more often the better.
When my grandmother was in her last few years, I would visit her often at the nursing home. When we were sitting in the social hall together, a guy about my age sat down at the old piano, surprisingly still in tune, and began to play. He played a few songs, sang, and took a few requests. I asked him who he was. He said someone he cared about had been there for his or her last years; he wanted to bring some cheer to everyone there; not everyone had visitors of their own. Next time I went, I brought my guitar. I am not all that good, but I realized that didn’t matter too much. When I was playing for some of them, giving them my time, my attention, my jokes—that’s what mattered.
I think the dogs and cats my son helps cares for appreciate him as well, maybe as much as the shelter workers do. I think regardless of your age, if your heart is in the right place, you can help someone or something! Getting our youth involved at a young age is good and even better if there are adults doing the service with them. Youth have a chance to contribute and experience the satisfaction one feels from helping. The earlier and more often we encourage this, the more someone will see volunteering as part of normal life. Whether it is with animals, your church, temple, your neighborhood, or your beach—help make the world a better place by giving of your time and talent! Help your children join in this goal!
I think many people want the world to be a better place. If you are that person, too, we have something very important in common! So now what? Look for a way to get involved. Play to your strengths and passions whenever you can. We don’t all have the same comfort levels in talking with people, etc., but there are so many ways to give back in Florida; UF/IFAS Extension alone has numerous programs in which you can be a volunteer based on your interests.
- For instance, if you subscribe to the notion that it takes a village, then become a 4-H Volunteer and \ work with youth on any number of project areas from raising animals, riding horses, robotics, arts, leadership, and more! To find out more, check with your local county extension office or visit http://florida4h.org/volunteers_/
- Maybe you like talking to people about money; helping people setup a budget, understanding their credit report, or establish a financial goal – then you could be a Florida Master Money Mentor! To find out more, check with your local county extension office or visit https://reg.distance.ufl.edu/reg/Course/Details/E89FBA3F-1380-46C2-8135-511CDDE1B833
- Or maybe you want to help the environment, learn more about it. You can learn more on the different ecosystems in Florida, invasive species, and help others learn more about it too in the Florida Master Naturalist Program. To find out more, check with your local county extension office or visit http://www.masternaturalist.ifas.ufl.edu
- Or maybe you are honing a green thumb and want to help others learn more about horticulture or gardening. Maybe you want to help with one of our amazing gardens around your county! To find out more, check with your local county extension office or visit http://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/lawn-and-garden/master-gardener-program/