Celebrating volunteerism |

Millions of people volunteer their time in the United States. Grand Rapids Minnesota is a microcosm of that love for volunteering. It shouldn’t be surprising that intrinsic motivation is the driving force for these good deed doers.

“Folks volunteer for the joy of recognizing in themselves that they have something special to give,” said Sharon Marty, volunteer extraordinaire for the Grand Rapids Players. (If you saw the recent Beauty and the Beast performance, you will have witnessed her costuming genius.) “In a volunteer organization everyone shares the same sense of belonging, commitment and ownership which fuels the cause and brings value to it.”

“My interest in community service probably began in 1968 with Peace Corps duty as a science teacher in the Dominican Republic,” said David Hayes, Reif volunteer. “Afterward, taking the lead from my father, I entered the teaching profession in Iowa; which I always considered to be a service oriented career—underpaid with many volunteer opportunities.”

“Think of how many amenities and services volunteers provide,” said Caroll Morrill, Reif volunteer. “Greeting and directing traffic at the hospital; assisting in early childhood screening; building, driving, delivering services to the elderly and medically challenged; assisting in classrooms, mentoring and tutoring students; working at the food bank; grantwriting, board service; nursing home entertainment, etc. Most of my friends are busier than they’ve ever been.”

Getting better

Volunteering is not only a way to use current expertise and talents but is a way to expand abilities.

“Each time I find myself in a volunteer situation it’s because I’m already good at whatever I volunteered for,” said Marty. “But, as time goes by, I become aware of other things that happen beyond my area. Then I find myself pitching in to help others and soon I become adept at things that I never knew about before. Then I can volunteer for even more things!”

“When I was first learning about photography, I wasn’t particularly talented,” said Jenni Mariano, photographer covering Reif Dance and Players performances. “I did it, because I loved it. And my kids love to perform. (Marianos have several children in Reif programs.) So like any slightly overzealous parent, I wanted photographs of my children. As I developed my abilities, other people (parents, directors, etc) began asking for performance photographs. I realized that I had something to offer that the Reif Center could use that wasn’t necessarily in the regular operating budget.”

Thank you very much

Recognition is an essential part of showing gratitude to volunteers. Few would expect or want things of financial value. Rather the acknowledgement of their efforts, complements on what they bring to the organization or inviting them to participate in planning are encouraging and welcome.

“I’m not sure organizations need to do too much to recognize and appreciate volunteers,” said Hayes. “I actually know of people who volunteer more than I do who are embarrassed when they receive recognition. Much of the satisfaction is internal and we frequently receive verbal reminders of our value. With the Reif, for example, the summer luncheon where we select our ushering tasks for the season, is a great opportunity to remind each other of the common bond we share.”

“My talents and time don’t have a monetary value, just intrinsic,” said Marty. “And I’m happy to share! But a thank you note, a sweet treat, a moment in the spotlight, a name on a list, a personal touch, are all important ways to fuel the fire. What goes around, comes around. Pay it forward!”

Carving out space for volunteering is on the top of all of these volunteers’ list and they recognize it can be a challenge.

“Everyone is so busy,” said Mariano. “But volunteering doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You just need to look for the opportunities that align with the time you do have to give. Many people believe that you need a special set of skills to be able to volunteer. This is only partially true, there are many things that need to be done that can be easily learned. And sometimes people already have much needed skills and talents that could be given freely to a cause or an organization, but they haven’t looked for opportunities to use them. “

Aside from opinions about the benefits of volunteerism, there is scientific evidence that shows volunteers have better health and live longer. Quite an incentive. With so many organizations needing help, opportunities in your community abound. Time is money –donate yours today!