Adapted in TC: Make progress on your resolutions by volunteering | Body & Soul
On New Year’s Day, I read lots of varied New Year’s resolutions from all over the world. Many writers included such items as “create more meaningful relationships with people,” “contribute to bettering my community through service” and “model more kindness in action for my children and grandchildren.”
My first thought was that volunteerism can help someone accomplish all three of those goals.
From childhood, I was raised with the expectation of helping others through actions I did without pay. My paternal grandparents in particular, also showed me the joy of volunteering — whether it was helping at church, running errands for people or mentoring young children in reading.
As a teenager, when I first had my spinal stroke, I still wanted to help others. At the time, someone showed me a poster requesting phone help for an upcoming telethon. I was interested and signed on. I didn’t say anything to the telethon coordinator ahead of time about being a paraplegic.
When I arrived at the TV studio, a staffer immediately put a balloon in my right hand and an ice cream cone in the left. Then she wheeled me to an area set aside for people with the health challenge the telethon was raising money for. It took while to get the staff to understand that I was there to volunteer.
I’ve done a lot of volunteering since then. Currently, much of my volunteering is done by serving on several appointed boards and commissions. Volunteering is one of my family’s strongest values. At the end of 2022, my husband began volunteering weekly, as a mentor at a local elementary school. One school employee told him that just sitting quietly next to a child as they eat lunch or complete school work, can make a tremendous difference in that child’s life. The employee added that the need in our community for male mentors is especially great. Sadly, some children wait years for such a volunteer.
Overall, Traverse City and all of northern Michigan, have strong volunteer bases. Organizations such as the National Cherry Festival, Traverse City Film Festival and United Way Day of Caring would not exist without volunteers. When the pandemic hit, organizations like Safe Harbor had difficulty retaining their volunteers. Many volunteers were in the high risk category for getting COVID-19. At the time, many of my typically aged college students wanted to volunteer and take the place, temporarily, of the at-risk volunteers. My students helped at food pantries, day care centers and drove people to medical appointments. Other, more isolated students found ways to volunteer by doing welfare phone calls to those alone in their homes. All of the students said volunteering was like the best internship: They learned new, real world skills, increased their self-confidence and staved off feeling helpless during the pandemic.
A good source for the best volunteer opportunities in our area is www.volunteermatch.org
Every summer, I’ve met vacationers to northern Michigan who have volunteered in our community as a way to get to know it better. My husband and I also volunteered when we’ve travelled. Every place we’ve visited, we now have real friends that we keep in contact with and revisit.
Contact Susan Odgers at [email protected]. She is a 35-year resident of Traverse City and has used a wheelchair for 46 years. Susan is a faculty member of Northwestern Michigan College, a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and is on the curatorial board of Ragdale Artists’ Community.