Learning, Doing, Sharing: A Lifetime of Service Building Unity in Communities

Volunteering provides a rich platform for creating understanding among people and bringing us closer to global unity. When a retired executive helps a new resident of the United States learn English, it fosters understanding. When college students work in a community kitchen serving the hungry, it fosters understanding. When a mother and child deliver Meals on Wheels together, it fosters understanding. Volunteering brings us together with people we may not interact with in any other part of our lives, to give, to receive, to learn, and to better understand.

In America today we are seeing that at all stages of their lives, people can volunteer, actively learning, doing, and sharing.

A growing number of young people are learning through volunteer projects organized by their teachers or initiated by their families. According to a report from the Corporation for National and Community Service, an estimated 55 percent of youth age 12 to 18 are volunteering, which is more than 15.5 million young people. The typical youth volunteer gives almost 30 hours per year to nonprofit organizations. Kids who volunteer see that their contributions and their voices matter in the community. These projects give young people the opportunity to learn about being good citizens by using and developing their skills to enhance their communities.

Youth engaged in their communities grow up to be adults engaged in their communities. The maturity and skills of adults add real value when they are put to use in strengthening community nonprofits and addressing community needs. For example, many nonprofits do not have the funds to pay for professional marketing, accounting, or business development, so those who volunteer their unique talents and skills add hard-to-replace value to nonprofits struggling to address community needs on a miniscule budget.

These days, families often volunteer together. By volunteering together, families work toward shared goals and develop interpersonal skills. Parents and grandparents model positive civic behavior to their children. All of this adds up to family and community cohesiveness.

We are seeing Baby Boomers and retirees volunteer at a higher rate than any other demographic groups. As volunteers, Baby Boomers are confident, independent, self-reliant, achievement-oriented, and dedicated. They welcome exciting, challenging opportunities and strive to make a difference. With great life experiences and added years, Boomers can be models of civic engagement for younger generations, promoting and sharing the values that have allowed them to envision a more just and peaceful world.

At any life stage, volunteers contribute greatly to their communities, to better understanding one another, and to developing a sense of unity and peace. As Helen Keller wrote, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Jennifer Nissen is the Coordinator of Leadership & Service, Iowa State University Memorial Union Shellie Orngard is Executive Director of the Volunteer Center of Story County Kalen Petersen is the Director of Central Iowa Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP)