As we approach National Volunteer Week, April 7-13, I think about how I realized how much the work I do in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is tied to my career over the years. Not the positions I’ve held at companies where I’ve worked, but the volunteering I did while I was there. As a teenager, I landed my first corporate job by sharing what I’ve learned from volunteering. Then, I volunteered to work on a senator’s political campaign, answering phones, addressing questions, pitching in the streets about his abilities to understand the issues, connect to his public, and explain the motivation to get critical things done for the sake of the people.
Although participating on a political campaign in your youth is one form of volunteerism, what shaped my purpose was experiencing the social impacts of giving time. The simple act of helping individuals and charitable organizations accomplish their mission and provide enriching programs and services to the communities where they operate, took on a renewed meaning for me. It was a conduit from which I discovered what I wanted to pursue as a career. From serving food at a homeless shelter, packing thousands of items for kids’ gift bags, developing career day sessions held at elementary schools, and planning leadership development workshops for visiting high school students who explored corporate careers for a day, were among the many ways I volunteered. I was humbled by the realization of how many people go hungry every day. The hundreds of children who don’t know they are loved and thereby come to school uninspired to learn, grow and explore their imagination. Or, working with those, whose only escape is school where their imaginations come to life.
You learn so much about yourself by helping others and what’s critical is how you have the power to redirect the bad experiences of life to good ones for someone served by your volunteer work. I didn’t realize until years had gone by my efforts to help and inspire others also led me to a career in corporate citizenship. In the past, I’ve worked in sales, marketing, consumer promotions, legal, corporate communications before discovering a career in CSR. As I partnered with my colleagues to create and execute programs for youth to participate in, I learned a lot about myself in the process, and overcame the extreme shyness I experienced in my youth through some of my adulthood. From introducing programs to students, your greatest critics I might add, to speaking to larger audiences through my work, I not only watched my shyness slowly disappear, but the act of giving of yourself, also impacted those around me.
I was fascinated by how volunteering transformed others to become the best of themselves and connect to what was most important to them in life. I’ve observed as individuals were transformed by volunteering to help someone discover something special inside himself. Not only do you gain a deep appreciation for the blessings you have in life, you feel the compassion for those who’ve been helped by your service. The person who was a stranger before is an individual with great pride, who needed your help in the moment. The fear of meeting strangers derailed by homelessness or hunger faded away. I’d imagine if a close friend or relative were in the situations these individuals were in, how I can help them overcome them.
A poignant moment in my volunteer experience was the day a former colleague at a southside homeless shelter saw her cousin who was a client being served by the organization. She didn’t know her cousin was homeless, and she vowed she’d help her. I watched how they each cried when they saw each other and stepped to the side to reconnect with each other through hugs, more tears and conversation, then a smile that was hidden within her cousin's face the entire morning we were there. Now, every face I see at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen, is a reminder of how social issues can touch any one of us close to home. As a CSR professional, I wanted to help more people connect to the humbling impact of volunteering in their communities. Over the years, I developed deeper, meaningful connections with my friends and colleagues, creating bonds that lasted longer than my tenure at the companies where I’ve worked.
What was most important in all of this was observing how our efforts helped those we served in the process. We didn’t invest a lot of time, with each volunteer experience, but every day, minute, hour, and second was worth it to see the impact we’ve made on the lives we touched.
Gratitude of Service
Today, I appreciate more than ever, the contributions of volunteers around the world. If it were not for acts of kindness demonstrated by thousands of individuals, many children would not be inspired; people in need would not be clothed or fed; and housing would not be built or improved. Other social issues also would fall by the waste side, if it were not for the helping hands of the staff of non-profit organizations, and the volunteers they mobilize to support them. I know we cannot help everyone, but if you can take time to help one person realize life is better because they are in it, you’ve accomplished good!
If the eyes were truly a window to the soul through my work, I’ve been able to get a ring-side view of the most beautiful souls who have ever existed simply by reaching out to make a difference!
Happy National Volunteer Week to those who continuously give their time to help others! Thank you for making a difference!
For more information on National Volunteer Week click here.
(Photo Adobe Spark)