Lessons in Giving

AMONG THE MANY LESSONS my mother instilled in me, none was more impactful than “do the right thing when someone needs help.” As a child, our family frequently received help from those who pitched in to make the lives of others better. When we faced hard times, people seemed to show up out of nowhere to help. Even at a young age, I appreciated these acts of kindness and understood that I needed to help others as I had been helped. With age and maturity, my brother, sisters, and I have translated this lesson from Mom into volunteering and community service.

All communities, whether large or small, wealthy or poor, depend upon neighbors giving of themselves to help one another. The state of Missouri is no exception. From border to border, there are tens of thousands of charities and nonprofit organizations that depend upon the talents, skills, and resources of Missourians to help meet the needs of others.

Many Missourians have the desire and financial resources to donate money to charities and nonprofit organizations. While these donations are critically important to the overall success of the charities and nonprofits, unless there are individuals willing to give their time and talents to deliver help to others, the donations represent only untapped potential. Businessman and speaker Harvey Mackay, when speaking of the value of time, said: “Time is free, but it is priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it, you can never get it back.” These words seem particularly wise as it relates to volunteering and community service. Whether or not Missourians have the financial resources to make donations, they can make an even greater and more meaningful investment with their time.

Volunteer work comes in many different forms and can be unique for every person based upon their particular interests or circumstances. The young man or woman who has an interest in joining the military might visit a veterans’ home, while the family of five with three young children might join their church group to wrap presents for those less fortunate. Of equal significance and benefit is the young professional who devotes their time to charities and nonprofits in order to gain experience, not knowing that the personal connections made while volunteering will be influential throughout their career.

Many local charities and organizations rely upon volunteers to exist. In many cases, there is an inverse relationship between needs and volunteers such that the number of volunteers decrease even as needs increase. This presents significant challenges for nonprofits, particularly in Missouri’s smaller communities. Without volunteers, noble causes and important services may cease to exist.

Volunteering is a great way to get young people involved within the community. Claudia and I have tried to instill the value of volunteerism into our children. Our family donates time to numerous organizations, including the United Way of Central Missouri, the Central Missouri Food Bank, veterans’ organizations, the Special Olympics, and Missouri 4-H. These locally governed organizations use volunteers to make tremendous impacts and have allowed us to show our children that giving their time can be just as meaningful as a monetary donation, if not more so.

I am grateful to the parents, schools, churches, and judges that provide varying degrees of motivation for youth to volunteer. It is easy for our children to become self-absorbed and forget about the needs of others, both in our families and in the community at large. Community service does not prevent self-absorption, but it makes it more difficult. Helping with a Habitat for Humanity home, visiting heroes in a veterans’ home, or helping pack Buddy Packs provides invaluable perspective on what is important and what is just one of the insignificant problems of everyday life.

I’m grateful for a family that taught me the importance of community service, and I’m thankful for the men and women across the state who lead by example in volunteering their time and talents to help others. This investment of time and energy pays dividends not only in the lives of those they help, but also in their own.