Volunteerism is empathy in motion. It is the desire to see a better world met with the implementation of action. Something that many people don’t realize before volunteering is how their lives will be inexplicably changed afterwards. The simple choice of giving back to others who cannot repay you can lead one on a journey of growth and betterment of self. On Wikipedia, volunteering is defined as ‘freely offering to do something.’ Often times in our societal state of affairs, it feels like everything needs to have a return on investment in order to be deemed as worthy. Yet, the most beautiful things in life are priceless. When it comes to giving back, the investment is love and the return is love. Doesn’t everyone want that?

A testament to the way volunteerism can strengthen and unite people is that when we give to people in need, we ourselves feel empowered. According to an article on Volunteer Hub – volunteerism is said to improve health by strengthening the body, mood, and it lessens stress in participants. By giving your heart through volunteering to another person/community, it is a reflection of the beauty that already exists within you. Learning to give that gift to people in need is one of the highest forms of care.

While it is true that every human being endures hardships, working with the communities that you travel to brings a deeper perspective into our own lives. One thing that volunteering can provide is the understanding that many of our common complaints come from a place of privilege. Stepping into places where citizens are struggling with attaining even the most basic care will help you realize how much you have in this life. Understanding our own privilege is not so we feel pity or ‘better than’ others, but rather it grants us the knowledge that we can use our privilege in a positive way. Instead of spending time thinking about what is lacking in our own lives, we can use that same energy to build up the lives of others. When volunteering, it is important to remind yourself that we are all one. Although there are biological, cultural, economic and environmental differences that separate us – deep down we all share commonalities that unite us. There is nothing more beautiful than finding connection with unexpected individuals in unexpected places. Even the language barrier cannot come between the language of compassion.

You don’t have to travel thousands of miles away to a third world country to give back either. Unfortunately, there are citizens here in the United States who are not even afforded access to clean water and have air pollutants creating unhealthy living conditions. In the South Bronx of New York City, children are suffering from the highest rates of asthma in the country due to air pollution. Due to the toxic water in Flint Michigan – children have ascending levels of led in their blood and many have brain damage for the rest of their lives. There are rising quality of life issues that are affecting our own land and people. The spirit of volunteerism must not stop when we arrive back to our own country, towns and cities – it is a fire that must stay lit within us so we start to see the way we can impact our own communities.

Additionally, if you cannot volunteer your time due to a disability – giving back by donating to an organization of your choice can enrich your life in similar ways. Each month, Better World Tours donates to a non-profit business that is doing incredible things. If we cannot be on ground with our tour groups who are volunteering, we choose to give back to the places that they are visiting. In this way, we are constantly taking stock of the organizations who are doing work to bring more goodness to this planet.

It can be easy to feel like just one person is not going to change the world. In a realistic response, I would agree. I believe that our society can expand out of celebrating the individual and start empowering those who are building communities, businesses, and working together to create spaces where love can thrive. Complacency is not a productive state – as noting what is ‘wrong’ in the world can actually lead to understanding what is right and moving towards it with your actions.

Volunteerism is the spark that leads to a better world. I mentioned the toxicity of the water in Flint, Michigan – and although so much damage has been done to that community, there are activists such as Jaden Smith, LeeAnn Walters and organizations such as United Way of Genesee County and the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan that are providing help for these struggling citizens. This goes to show that although there is darkness in this world – there are always people who are providing the light. Note them, remember them and learn to be one of them. It can be a lifelong struggle to become the best version of yourself, but that journey starts with empathy and service in whatever way you can provide it.

When I think about the power of those who choose to volunteer – I think of the quote from Fred Rogers which states, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers—so many caring people in this world.”

Be a helper. The world needs you.