A Simple Case for Volunteering

by Steve Davey
“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing, because he could only do a little.”

-Edmund Burke.

There’s extraordinary power in that phrase, in part, because of its near universal application to every facet of our lives. One area for which its application is tailor-made is volunteerism, and with April being National Volunteer Month, applying this axiom to volunteerism can have a profound impact with little individual effort.

A few days after I moved to Portland 18 years ago, a brutal Nor’easter left a ton of damage to homes and property. After the storm, I bumped into a neighbor. He had just returned from cleaning up one of the worst-hit areas. I asked if he had family there. He said “no,” but after seeing reports online of the damage, he wanted to help.

He picked a neighborhood exceptionally hard hit, drove random streets, and stopped where people were outside cleaning up. He looked for homeowners who were older and didn’t seem to have other help coming. He introduced himself to total strangers and asked if they wanted help. From that introduction, he spent his day clearing brush and fallen limbs and moving furniture to accommodate the clean-up needed from water damage. “I did whatever they needed me to do,” he said.

I was struck by how casual he told his story. No fanfare. No invitation. He saw an opportunity to help someone in need and just did it – one person motivated to help another.

From that example, I began to live more alert for opportunities to help others. Winter in Maine, which can bring 100+ inches of snow and frigid temperatures, provides a lot of opportunities.

One day after a big snowfall, I watched a fire engine stop across my street. A firefighter exited and cleared the snow around the hydrant. It never occurred to me that plow piles can easily make a hydrant inaccessible.

From that moment, after every storm I made it my responsibility to shovel the area around the fire hydrants on my street. I still do it to this day.

That’s the beauty of volunteerism. There’s no limit to the ways we can help each other. And it doesn’t have to be structured, like a weekly shift at a soup kitchen, community center, senior living center or animal shelter. Volunteerism can be whatever you make of it. 

With a U.S. population of about 330 million, let’s say only a quarter – 82.5 million people – can volunteer. And let’s imagine if everyone volunteered one hour per month – that’s an additional 82.5 million hours of effort across this country helping others. That kind of effort impacts real and lasting change.

I encourage people to visit the United Way website and search by zip code for opportunities in your community.

Find your fire hydrant.

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