During the course of a life, volunteering opportunities can pop up in unexpected places. Often, they are age-appropriate but there are always opportunities to volunteer.
Volunteering can touch one person: “Who can give up their lunch hour to mentor a 6th grader?” Or, it can touch a large group: “Who can get there extra early to help set up for the event?” Volunteering can be for an hour, a day, a week, a year or longer.
Educated as an attorney, the majority of my adult life’s work outside of the house has been volunteering. You know that line on forms that asks your employment? Someone once told me to write in “professional volunteer.”
The volunteering opportunity that spoke to me has been Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. Hadassah has become the career of my heart.
I have attained the volunteer position of National Vice President of the largest Jewish women’s membership organization in the United States. But I started out as a teenager volunteering with my mother, Alyce Unger, my Grandmother Gertrude Mandel and my sister Leslie at the annual Hadassah bazaar in Long Beach, New York, my childhood home. I stood next to a woman who was four times my age and we sold donated merchandise so that a child, thousands of miles away who I would never meet, could get excellent care in a hospital that, at that point in time, I had never seen. I point out the age difference because multigenerational volunteering is powerful, memorable and meaningful. Whatever volunteering experience you can grab, please don’t shy away because you are the youngest person at the table.
I am an attorney trained in the law, a studier of statutes, a researcher, but I have been blessed to expand my core interests and to “participate” in the medical field because of my volunteering at Hadassah. I feel part of the team that made possible Hadassah Hospitals’ servicing one million patients a year, researching cures and protocols that are shared around the world. I feel part of the team responsible for the mental and physical health of hundreds of thousands of young people from 80 countries who graduated from Hadassah’s three Youth Aliyah villages over the years.
In public speaking experiences, I might never have spoken the words or phrases “immunotherapy,” “stem cell therapy” and “shock trauma.” Those words are more often than not found in speeches I deliver about the work of Hadassah Hospitals in Jerusalem that is shared around the world. If volunteering is meant to expand one’s horizons, I can vouch for that perk.
I said that I was trained to study statutes and to be a researcher in law school. To think logically, to read carefully and to apply principles and reasoning with understanding to tremendously complex issues – these are the tools I utilize in this, the career of my heart. These are the tools that brought me to a seat at the Executive Committee of a national organization. This is the bridge between my educational training and my volunteer life.
Volunteering can be for an hour, a day, a week, a year or longer. The above examples are some of my volunteer experiences at different stages in my life. But my volunteering with Hadassah, well that is a life-long relationship.
Volunteering expanded my reach and that is important to me. Wow – what does that say about me? It has helped me affect lives of people I work with directly one on one as well as people thousands of miles away. I like being on the world scene. There, I said it. I like making a difference – there, I said that too.
So, I guess if I am really going to be introspective in this article – yes – volunteering has given me a lot. It has added a whole new dimension to my already busy life.
You know, as a young mother years ago, I would tuck my kids into bed and then get two babysitters, consecutively, to watch the kids because my husband came home later than my 11:00 pm return from a Hadassah meeting. That’s when I volunteered in my local Hadassah group, and then chapter, along with my synagogue PTA, Sisterhood and Community Hebrew High School. I loved it. I loved being so busy and making a difference where I could either with hands on work or advisory work. When I led my Region, it was after a full day of carpooling in so many different directions that I used a chart to keep track. As my family got older, I moved up to the National Hadassah level of volunteering – I used to say 24/6. And it was.
The work of volunteering may keep you up very late at night working on the computer, but you can fit it into your life, if you want to. I want to. I have always wanted to. And I have given my time, my heart, my energy, my thinking to this volunteering opportunity.
Oh yes, another important perk of volunteering is that you meet the best people; you work with like-minded people and a sort of community evolves, sometimes bringing life-long friendships. Your community could include the first-grade teacher who introduces you to the sixth-grade student you will mentor or the other moms who volunteer to hand out pizza on “pizza day.”
Another perk of volunteering is what it does for your family especially your children. Yes, my husband and kids worked alongside me at our Hadassah bazaar years ago and today they know how important volunteering is, the giving of yourself. Volunteer – go on. Expand your reach. Expand yourself. You’ll get a lot and you’ll give a lot. And, you’ll like it to.
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