All over the country, organizations will show appreciation during volunteer week April 12 – 18 for the many volunteers who selflessly give their time to make a difference in the lives of others. Established in 1974 by President Richard Nixon, Volunteer Week is now sponsored by the Points of Light Institute, a foundation created in response to President George H.W. Bush’s inaugural speech in 1989, urging volunteers and community activists to become “a thousand points of light.”
The reality is that only about 25.3 percent of Americans volunteer at least once a year, a number that has leveled off since last year and is the lowest rate of volunteering recorded since 2002. When compared by state, Utah has the highest rate of volunteerism at 44.6 percent of the population and Florida ranks 48th out of the 50 states at 21.1 percent, significantly below the national average according to research posted on the Corporation for National & Community Service website.
As Christians, we are called to a lifestyle of service. Galatians 5:13 states “you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love” (NLT).
Share the love
Many in the body of Christ embrace this mandate wholeheartedly through service in their church or community throughout the year and during short-term events like Christian Life Center’s Serve Day, which was held on March 21. During their first church-wide Serve Day last year, 770 church members completed thousands of community service hours in one day. Their efforts included beach clean up, musical performances, free car washes for senior citizens, fencing repair, painting and gardening for 4KIDS of South Florida, boxing food items for Feeding South Florida and lots of prayer, among other things.
“It opens up people’s hearts when they see others serving them and asking for nothing in return,” said Outreach Pastor Sol Levy, of Christian Life Center, who added, “We want to show others the love of Christ.”
Keep giving back
On May 2nd, Firewall’s 400 students along with their mentors, school representatives and community leaders will volunteer together in a Serve-A-Thon. Working with at-risk and low income middle school and high school students in Broward public schools, Firewall fosters students’ growth through tutoring, mentoring and leadership development, but one of the core principles they teach is to “keep giving back.”
“There are not enough people committed to making a difference in the world,” said Andy Fernandez, executive director of Firewall Centers. “Our total focus on servant leadership is to integrate the mindset that you are a servant, and no matter how much or how little you have, you need to serve others.”
Work behind the scenes
Like many non-profit organizations in the community, Firewall Centers depends on volunteers to help make their organizations run. Cindy Wetzel, who attends Calvary Chapel Plantation, has been serving at Firewall Centers behind the scenes for almost five years keeping their seven centers stocked with snacks and organizing school supplies. “They give me a list of what they need and I gather it up and send it to them. It’s not rocket science, but it’s something I enjoy,” Wetzel said. “My skills are organization, hospitality and making homemade snacks many of these kids never see at home.”
Often the key to successful volunteerism is finding the place of service that fits. Wetzel said she’s learned “it doesn’t have to be something grandiose. I can be the wind beneath the wings of those who do the things I can’t.”
It was a presentation on a ministry to the elderly called Heart 2 Heart that got the attention of Ed Zymroz, of Christ the Rock Community Church. Now he regularly visits veterans at the Nininger Veterans Nursing Home in Pembroke Pines. “These are men and women who fought for our country, so I have a lot of respect for them and really enjoy going over there,” said Zymroz. “Mr. Sap likes football and Joe likes the Atlanta Braves, so we’ll talk about sports. It’s bingo now. I’m the bingo caller, and I used to be their poker player. We bring them food, hold their hands and talk to them,” he said.
The owner of an electrical business, Zymroz said work commitments once pulled him away from his visits for two months. “When I went back, so many people said they missed me that I realized I was making an impact. They remember our names and our visits keep them alive and young.”
Joani Braun, who volunteers on Friday mornings for Heart 2 Heart at Covenant Village in Plantation, said when she sees the seniors “I often think, ‘I’m so glad I saw you.’ Then the next thing you know you’ve laughed, you’ve smiled, you’ve giggled and I think, ‘I’ve had the best morning ever.’”
Reap the benefits
Based on a recent survey, Marti Engle, executive director of Heart 2 Heart, said volunteers report their service causes them to
– feel closer to God,
– have a greater sense of life balance,
– value relationships and connectivity with family
– develop more patience
– empathize with others, and
– demonstrate a Christian witness.
Operating with only three paid staff members, Engel said, “Volunteers are truly the life blood of our organization; without them we wouldn’t exist.”
Consider the cost
Bill Hobbs, executive director of Urban Youth Impact in West Palm Beach, also emphasized the value of volunteers. “Any organization hits a lid and can’t grow without volunteers. The reality is… we’d have to raise more funding to hire staff, so volunteers help us to grow more quickly,” he said. This is critical when the goal is to mentor inner city kids. “Because of our partners, we can now reach 450 kids weekly and have added locations in Riviera Beach and Boynton Beach.”
Hobbs said, “It’s critical that people get involved in whatever way they can, but consider the cost before you make that commitment, especially when you’re dealing with kids who already have a lot of instability in the home. They need the consistency that comes from faithful volunteers who bring that stability and love.”
Urban Youth Impact provides faith-based after school programming for inner city youth. More than half of the tutoring hours offered in their Leadership Academy are provided by volunteers ranging from high school students seeking service hours to senior citizens looking for a way to give back to their community.
With a goal to reach youth in five more urban pockets, they need churches and volunteers to come alongside them. “We cast the vision, equip the volunteers and plug them in so they have a good experience,” said Hobbs.
Stephanie Brunjes, Urban Youth Impact volunteer coordinator, said “Our volunteers often tell me, ‘the kids are teaching me way more than I am teaching them.’ And it means a lot to the kids to know that people volunteer just to see them blossom and grow.”
If you have a heart for service, the need is great. Pray, ask God, and He will show you which path to take. Find the best fit for you and get involved.