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Required and Inspired

Required and Inspired

I grew up in the pre “school required community service” era.  My high school had plenty of service clubs that held fundraisers for local causes, but we were not required to participate in a determined number of community service hours.

To be honest, I never gave community service much serious consideration during my teen years.  I did volunteer as a candy striper at my local hospital, but that was mainly because I liked the red and white striped uniform and the doughnuts in the hospital cafeteria.

As my kids grew up I was introduced to the required community service hour concept and appreciated the focus on giving back in their young lives.  I actually became more involved in volunteering as a result of the issues they became passionate about and I continue to thank them for exposing me to the real meaning of volunteerism.

Several years ago, I had the incredible opportunity to lead a grassroots nonprofit that depended on volunteers for many aspects of its work.   In this organization nearly 1,200 volunteers cooked meals for the hungry, delivered food for the homebound, drove the frail elderly to medical appointments and helped educate young children.  Nothing teaches you the value of volunteerism like seeing this many caring people mobilized to change things in our community and to realize it wouldn’t happen without them.   Some of them started out fulfilling a requirement but then became inspired by the work.

In my role at the Southwest Florida Community Foundation I have been exposed and introduced to a much wider range of volunteers from around the region.  Everything from caring citizens feeding monkeys in a protected animal refuge to cutting their hair so a young cancer patient can have a wig.  I have met incredible community servants from all ages and stages in life

Last week was National Volunteer Week, and among all the inspiring articles and conversations around volunteerism I ran across a study conducted by the United States Department of Labor that indicated volunteerism in 2013 had hit a ten year low.  As I dug a little deeper I found that this stat was perplexing many who thought with a down turn in jobs that volunteering would be up.  It seems that volunteerism isn’t driven by having more free time but rather the busiest segment of the US population is doing the most volunteering.  People who were out of work were spending their time trying to find work, not volunteering, which makes a lot of sense.

Thinking back to the days that I depended so much on those daily volunteers, I recalled that they were always volunteering as part of their day and were on to other activities, a job or additional community service.  None of them were there because they had nothing better to do or free time on their hands, but instead because they wanted to make the world a better place with the time they did have available.  For the student volunteers, they were serving in addition to their school and work responsibilities.

So whether you are required or inspired, consider going out and spending a few hours in your busy schedule volunteering for the causes you care about.  They will be happy and so will you!

I would love to hear about your experiences if you are volunteering or if you are an organization who depends on volunteers at [email protected]

Sarah Owen
Sarah Owen

Sarah Owen, President & CEO of the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, leads a passionate and diverse team dedicated to driving regional change for the common good. The Foundation is committed to engaging the community in conversations and action that creates sustainable positive change and provides the funding to make those changes a reality. More