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A Soft Heart

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I enjoy reading my daily horoscope, but I don’t put much stock into it. Occasionally my horoscope becomes an entertaining coincidence when it converges in perfect alignment with my life circumstances. That is what happened when I read my horoscope one day in early November. My horoscope read, “If you’re asked to make a donation, buy something whose proceeds will go to a non-profit organization, or contribute your time to a worthy cause, you’ll be only too happy to do it now, and you really should. You’ll be happy with what you’ve done and who you’ve helped, and you’ll feel good about it for days to come. Just be sure someone who sees a soft heart — and a bank account — does not take advantage of you.”

During the Katrina disaster I made a personal commitment to get involved in public service. I followed through with that pledge and I am now contributing my time to 2 different not-for-profit organizations. It is a great investment of my personal time and energy and I really enjoy doing it. I was afraid that I was going to overextend myself, but the fact of the matter is that I believe in the mission of these organizations and that fact helps me stay committed to them.

I chose a few organizations to inquire into from a list that was offering help to the Katrina victims. I contacted them and then attended their respective orientations. There were a couple of hits and misses along the way but I ultimately decided on the two organizations I chose because I liked what they stood for and they served my community. I’m glad that I followed through with my post-Katrina promise — as the horoscope says, “You’ll be happy with what you’ve done and who you’ve helped, and you’ll feel good about it for days to come.” My obligation to each organization is a couple of hours a week. I’ve found that the two hours I spend serving would otherwise be spent watching television or surfing the Internet. Volunteering is a much more productive use of my time. I give but I also feel as if I am receiving and the reciprocation feels wonderful.

One way to find an organization that is a good match for you is to go to Volunteermatch.org. VolunteerMatch offers a national list of organizations that describes the kinds of volunteers they are seeking. Volunteers go in knowing what is expected of them beforehand; therefore they are less likely to break the commitment due to unrealistic expectations. I found my position at a local food bank/food rescue program through VolunteerMatch. The organization offers free classes on nutrition, and volunteers go into the field as a team comprised of a chef, a nutritionist, and a class manager to teach participants how to make healthier food choices. We also prepare meals based on the guidelines of the new food pyramid (mypyramid.gov). I have learned a lot of information I didn’t know before and I find myself changing my own eating habits based upon what was discussed in class.

The other organization I am working with is a local mentoring program. I love the mission and philosophy of this particular organization. They offer wonderful resources to the community. As a bonus, it is in my own neighborhood so I don’t have to travel far. Part of the program’s mission is to teach children better eating habits. During the after-school portion of the program the children complete their homework, then meet with an assigned mentor in a small group a couple of hours each week. The mentors and mentees do educational and fun activities like reading together, arts and crafts, or simply talking about life. The important thing is that the children are spending one-on-one time with an adult who is not their parent or teacher and who actually has an interest in them and wants to spend time with them. I have found that both organizations offer a rewarding experience and I continue to grow and learn as an individual.

There are thousands of organizations across the country that need volunteers. From animal shelters to hospices, most not-for-profits can’t survive without a helping hand that extends further than a wallet. They need people like you to say, “I can use my free time more productively in order to help someone else. ” An added benefit is that you feel great about giving of yourself. Volunteering requires giving from the softest spot in your heart and your only motivation is doing the right thing and serving your fellow man.

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About D. Bell