Volunteering: The Selfish Thing to Do

By Ruth Lamberty, ACC 

I spoke with a teen recently that was deciding on whether or not to get a part-time job. I asked what else he may choose to be doing with his time outside of school. “I don’t know,” he said, Like what?” “Well, there’s so much to do in life, so many wonderful ways to spend our time. I, in particular, love to spend my free time volunteering, whenever possible,” I mentioned. This time, his response came back quickly: “I’d rather work than volunteer, because at least I’d be getting paid.” Putting my own feelings aside, I dug a little deeper with “What are you looking to gain out of a new experience?” His answer came again, “I don’t know.”  

The reason I’m bringing this up is because I’m a Life Coach and I hear that response often, from different people seeking different experiences. They just don’t know what they want and/or why. It’s my job to support them on their journey. This chat got me thinking about my own journey – my volunteer journey. Though teens will often feel that volunteering is a chore forced upon them, my Jewish upbringing laid the groundwork for a strong life of serviceThere are, indeed, many wonderful ways to spend free time, but nothing fills up our cups like volunteering can. I’ve popped in and out of volunteering, in different ways and to different degrees ever since, even running volunteer events at a Jewish Federation for many years. What has all this varied experience led to? In addition to many other things, a much stronger me.   

Volunteering your time, effort and money have always been touted as giving, and they are, but I am going to push back on that time-tested idea and say that for me, it’s much heavier on the receiving side. Yes, I can help people; I can be there, lending my support, my shoulder (in non-COVID times), my expertise, my elbow grease, but what I get back in return is far greater than what I give. Now that I’m in my forties, I have started to recognize this fact and appreciate my experiences that much more. It even creates stronger friendships, both friends found through volunteering that are like-minded people, and by encouraging friends I already had (and family) to give of their time as I do mine. It doesn’t take much convincing once someone finds a volunteer opportunity that they really connect with. 

My most recently added volunteer experience is with the JCS Friendly Caller program. I get the privilege of speaking twice a week to two ladies who reside in a JCS group home for individuals with disabilities; they get a friendly voice and willing ear on the other end of the line. From the comfort of my own home, with the simple dial of a phone and just 10-20 minutes per week, I get the joy of being able to build relationships with these women. 

So, what’s the gist here? Volunteering, for me, is a selfish act in the end. It has built the person that I am and brought so much more to my life than I will ever be able to put back into the world. Whatever your reason ends up being, I encourage you, and your children, to take the volunteering leap. You can start small, every little bit helps those you serve – and helps you along the way.

Ruth Lamberty is a Volunteer at Jewish Community Services and the Founding Coach at Adult Prep, a hands-on coaching and consulting company. 

JCS provides individuals and families throughout Central Maryland with a broad array of services and resources for emotional and behavioral health, aging and caregiving, parenting, job seeking, financial stability, and living with disabilities. To learn how JCS can help you live your best life, please visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200. To learn about volunteering with JCS, please visit jcsbalt.org/volunteer. To learn more about volunteering with Jewish Volunteer Connection, please visit jvcbaltimore.org.

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