Different forms of volunteering

Tegan Johnson

Service has long lasting impact on all


One of my friends from my church once asked me if I thought people who go to the women’s marches in their city or volunteer at their local soup kitchen should instead be fighting for women’s rights in Yemen or building wells in Ethiopia.

I was shocked by his question and had no idea how to answer.

His argument was a good one: we should build up people in other countries so their standard of living is on the same level as us in the U.S. We should go where there is a need for outside help when foreign aid is required.

His question seemed like a weird thing to ask — if you are able to help out in your own community, of course you should travel where people are less fortunate.

But after thinking about it more, I realized that not everyone has the ability to travel to another country, or even another state, or to work for free.

I am fortunate enough to have access to a car I can use to drive myself places to volunteer, and I am blessed to have the resources to serve a poor neighborhood in Mexico.

Not every person who wants to help in similar ways can do so, however.

The Bible frequently urges Christians to serve others. A few examples include the command to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” which is considered to be one of the greatest commandments. Hebrews 13:16 tells us “to do what is good and share.”

Additionally, throughout the Gospels, Jesus tells parables that encourage his disciples and listeners to help “the least of these.”

So, how can we uphold these instructions if we believe we don’t have the time, money, energy or resources to help others?

A study published by the Cambridge University Press examined what makes an effective democratic society. Joseph E. Kahne, a professor at Mills College, found there to be three types of citizens, which they defined as personally responsible citizens, participatory citizens and justice-oriented citizens.

The first group obeys the law and might volunteer in their community by picking up litter or giving blood. When asked, they also help out people they know.

The second group “actively participate[s]” in their community. They might organize a blood drive or be a routine volunteer at their church.

The third group considers why certain people in their community need help or are at a disadvantage. People in this group might fight for social justice and, when possible, “address [the] root causes of problems.”

It’s clear that people help each other in different ways, and none of them are necessarily better or worse than any other.

People can choose what category they want to be a part of. Not everyone can take time off work to volunteer on the other side of the globe, but there are many ways we can serve others.

If you still don’t feel like volunteering is your thing, maybe these statistics will change your mind.

University of Pennsylvania Professor Cassie Mogilner published a study in the Harvard Business Review that found volunteers felt like they had more time in the day. Mogilner explains the paradox as such: because the participants “feel they’ve accomplished something, … they can accomplish more in the future.”

Jane Allyn Piliavin of the University of Wisconsin found a positive effect on grades and self-esteem in students who volunteer. She also found a decline in drug usage, dropout rate and pregnancies.

Lastly, the Corporation for National and Community Service encourages individuals to volunteer because it builds community, strengthens social networks and helps create friendships.

To answer my friend’s question, I should have replied with “no.”

If you feel called to sponsor a child in an impoverished country, volunteer at a food kitchen or write an email to your legislators, do it!

There are many ways to volunteer, and I believe everyone should participate in a way that they are able to do.

Volunteering is not just something to put on a resume or job application; it’s so that you can assist others who need it help and answer your calling to serve.