Volunteering to give hope in times of disasters

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash


That is what volunteering brings me. Hope that we can create our future. Hope that people can recover more quickly and equitably from a disaster. And hope that collective action can strengthen communities.

It is National Volunteer Week, which Points of Light describes as follows:

National Volunteer Week is an opportunity to recognize the impact of volunteer service and the power of volunteers to tackle society’s greatest challenges, to build stronger communities and be a force that transforms the world. Each year, we shine a light on the people and causes that inspire us to serve, recognizing and thanking volunteers who lend their time, talent and voice to make a difference in their communities.

National Volunteer Week was established in 1974 and has grown exponentially each year, with thousands of volunteer projects and special events scheduled throughout the week. Today, as people strive to lead lives that reflect their values, the expression of civic life has evolved. Whether online, at the office, or the local food bank; whether with a vote, a voice, or a wallet – doing good comes in many forms, and we recognize and celebrate them all.

Over the past decades of leveraging philanthropic resources to support communities affected by disasters, I have witnessed firsthand and through the work of community partners how volunteerism is critical to disaster response and recovery.

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster event, volunteers lead many activities: removing debris, cleaning out houses, distributing food and non-food items, providing legal support and public health services, attending to emotional and spiritual care needs, contributing to construction efforts. You name it, and volunteers are there. Hands On Nashville, on which I serve on their board in a volunteer capacity and an organization critical to my hometown, was able to log 26,338 volunteer shifts, totaling 82,761 hours with an economic impact of $2,251,099 following the tornadoes that struck Middle Tennessee in March 2020. That is a pretty incredible impact!

A second example comes from National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (National VOAD). In 2016, they logged 5,215,197 volunteers, 48,565,211 hours, totaling $1.1 billion in donated labor for disaster response and recovery efforts in the United States alone.

In a recent conversation with my colleague, Sally Ray, she said, “Communities cannot recover from disaster events without the support of volunteers. The physical labor coupled with community spirit is critical to recovery efforts.” Volunteers bring hope.

Personally, volunteering brings me hope. I grew up watching my mother volunteer in Tucson. My own need to give back to my community arose in high school when we had service requirements that I loved (my first marriage proposal came while volunteering in an assisted living facility). I even volunteered as a candy striper at a hospital while living and studying in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Wherever I have lived, I have tried to give back to my community through volunteering.

Most recently, my oldest daughter and I have been volunteering at Nashville’s vaccine clinic. Every Saturday since January, we have woken up early, grabbed our tea and headed downtown. The excitement in the room is contagious, and volunteers clap and cheer as hundreds upon hundreds of people get vaccinated each day. There is a feeling of hope in the room that we will push forward into a new normal. And hope that as individuals deeply connected to a community, we are making a difference to squash this pandemic.

Now here is my ask of you: Ditch your chores for a few hours, grab a friend or loved one and register to volunteer in your community. Find your local Points of Light affiliate and sign up. Help clean a garden, mulch a trail, muck and gut a flood-affected home, read to a child. The possibilities are endless, and the hope is boundless.

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