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It’s National Volunteer Week. What will you do to serve?

As President Joe Biden said, ‘Service — the act of looking out for one another — is part of who we are as a nation’

SHARE It’s National Volunteer Week. What will you do to serve?

Dominga Rodriguez stands outside of her home in the Dominican Republic. Volunteers are working to demolish her home and rebuild a new one with running water and electricity.

Steve Wood

“A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.”

— Steve Maraboli

Three weeks ago, Diego was killed in a motorcycle accident in his native Dominican Republic. He was an uncle, a brother, a son, a grandson and a friend. Grief over his death did not stop the Garcia family from sharing the joy of their neighbors getting a new home, however. In fact, they were the ones who nominated the Rodriguez family and sent pictures of a home that was literally falling apart to a nonprofit agency that works in that country.

Last week, I helped lead a team of a dozen or so volunteers to work on the Rodriguez home. Their story is compelling, too: seven people, three generations, living in a tiny home literally held together with string and some termite-infested boards. Working with a local team, we had the home demolished and the site cleared in 45 minutes. 

We also took down a second home (that one took a full 60 minutes), then dug trenches by hand where the concrete foundation would go, laid rebar latticework, mixed concrete on the ground with shovels and spades and then began the concrete foundation. The local team will finish the home over the next couple of months, and the Rodriguez family will have a solid home with running water, electricity and room for all seven people.

The needs that surround us are great. Sometimes the needs are so great and so overwhelming that you might not know where to start. You might think that if you can’t cross the ocean to start an orphanage or build a house or serve in refugee camps, you can’t serve at all. It’s simply not true.

You do not have to cross the ocean to serve. You can simply cross the street. 

In fact, for almost all of us, we will have many more opportunities and spend significantly more time serving the people close to us, both physically and metaphorically. You do not need to wait for “someday” to serve. In fact, if you wait for the “perfect day” to serve, you will almost certainly not get around to serving. You can serve in the midst of a hectically busy life, when both money and time are tight. You can serve when you are working full-time in or out of the home, or when you are unemployed. You can serve if you are in the trenches of parenthood or if you have no children. You can serve even in the middle of dark and troubling times.

During the Great Depression in the 1920s, things were rough. Jobs evaporated and many families faced desperate circumstances. Some families, though, found themselves with enough and to spare. My great-grandmother Freda always fed the men who knocked on her door — after they did the odd jobs around their home that she held in reserve, just for them. She didn’t start a food pantry or nonprofit organization, she didn’t campaign for changes in public policy and most of the men she fed probably didn’t even remember her name. She didn’t even cross the street to serve.

But what she did mattered. Feeding one person mattered.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Everybody can be great ... because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul generated by love.” Fred Rogers reminded us that “life is for service.” 

You don’t need to be a certain age to serve. Kids collect food for food banks and quarters for shoes. Teens volunteer on Hope Squads to help prevent suicide and serve as tutors to their peers. Adults of a certain age mentor younger folks, serve as volunteer grandparents, rock babies in hospital newborn intensive care units and knit or crochet caps for chemotherapy patients. Those are just the tiniest part of volunteer service opportunities. There are, frankly, as many ways to volunteer and serve as there are people on the planet. 

Utah’s Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, a member of the Utah Commission on Service and Volunteerism (UServeUtah), noted: “One trait that consistently sets our state apart is the commitment Utahns have to service. Utah leads the nation in volunteerism and is consistently ranked among the top states for both service and charitable giving. I continue to encourage Utahns in every corner of our great state to find a way to be involved in strengthening and unifying our communities.”

Does volunteer work sound like just one more thing to add to an already full plate? I hear you. I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed, and my initial instinct is to find ways to feel less overwhelmed by taking things off my plate. However, I have found that the more I serve others — and not just my family — the better able I am to handle the heavy demands at home and elsewhere. 

What an amazingly beautiful paradox. The more we lift and share others’ burdens, the more ours are lightened.

In signing this year’s presidential proclamation on National Volunteer Week (it’s this week), President Joe Biden said, “We are living in a moment that calls for hope and light and love.  Hope for our futures, light to see our way forward, and love for one another. Volunteers provide all three. Service — the act of looking out for one another — is part of who we are as a nation.”

It is a part of who we are as a global community, and just like the Garcia and Rodriguez families are experiencing, it is part of who we are as neighbors. 

Holly Richardson is the editor of Utah Policy Daily and a Deseret News columnist.