1. It gives you perspective.
In the United States, we are fortunate to be blessed beyond measure, yet it seems we also complain without measure! In my life I have found that what I need is not for my circumstances to adhere to my definition of perfection, but rather for my heart to succumb to contentment.
When you serve someone else who has a keen or obvious need, it helps you place your own life in realistic perspective. It helps you understand and believe that you are, indeed, truly blessed. Sometimes we just need to step outside of ourselves for a second and see things differently.
Working at Starfish, I have seen many kids growing in a single parent home, with their mom and dad working several jobs, coming home really late at night. I’ve also seen beloved students watch their friends and family members die because of gun and gang violence. My life isn’t so bad.
No matter where you are or what you are doing, compassion is essential for success in your personal and professional relationships. Empathy, the ability to see things from someone else’s point of view, will help you handle sticky situations with finesse, and lead people commanding respect.
Serving others regularly helps to foster compassion in your own heart. You will learn to be patient with imperfect people, and understand how difficult situations can push people to act a certain way. You will learn to respond with kindness rather than disdain.
If your long-term hopes and dreams do not include helping others, you are setting yourself up for unhappiness. We were designed to experience great joy in serving others. There is very limited meaning in building an empire that only brings yourself money, power, or fame. If you want to experience fulfillment, refine your goals.
Serving others will help you realize your true passion. It may not be in the exact field you are volunteering in, but it will help you define how you want to live your life. The happiness you experience while giving to others is something you will want to continue for the rest of your life.
I remember the first time I worked with an at-risk child. It changed my life and made me realize that this is what I wanted to spend my life doing. This is how my life can make a difference and bring me great fulfillment, simultaneously.
4. It creates friendships.
We always hear these stories of volunteers who came to the program intending to change lives, but it was their own life that changed. The simple joy of a child, the obvious value they place in companionship and just BEING together at the center; these are things I will never forget.
We come seeking to give, to serve; but it is us who receive, us who learn, and us who will remember these precious people for years to come.
Once you’ve had your eyes opened and discovered your passion, you will begin to excel in your field. Through the relationships you build with other volunteers and mentors, doors will open for you to begin to serve others in a similar capacity, but as your career.
I met a precious young man who volunteered on our summer retreats. He loved working with and mentoring the Starfish kids so much, he realized at some point that this is what he wanted to do with his life. He understood the happiness he experienced with the kids was something he could have long term if he just prepared himself for it. Currently his course of study in college focuses on early childhood education.
If volunteering seems like it might be a good fit for you, I encourage you to explore local agencies that serve the type of people you may be interested in serving. If you are local to the Chicago area and are interested in working with at-risk kids, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit our website at www.starfishchicago.org.