Friday, March 6, 2015

Volunteering is better than watching TV

Something hit me the other day as I was driving back from one of the most effective and fun trainings I've ever attended. This was a training for a program I had signed up to volunteer for. I spent 8 hours of my Saturday learning more about how to volunteer, but it didn't feel like work. It felt even more rejuvenating than if I had spent even a quarter of that time "relaxing" in front of a screen, giving my brain a break.
According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 25% of the US population volunteers their time each year.  (Interestingly, most of them are between 35 and 44 years of age, white, with a bachelors degree, and employed). The program that I'm currently involved in asks for 8 hours of our time a month. 8 hours! And in exchange, we could save someone's live. I actually heard a young person say that they learned they could be happy because of the activities she had been doing with her mentor- a woman who volunteered her time. That young woman is completely reanalyzing her life because of 8 hours that one woman puts in (although I'm sure she puts in more than that, just because she wants to).

On a totally different note, I found on Statistic Brain that the average American will spend 9 years of their life watching TV. 49% of American's say that they watch too much TV. Why? Certainly they make it super appealing, trendy even, to catch the latest. It's hard to tear away once it's on. Even very down to earth tree hugger people I know can get caught up in a conversation about Orange is the New Black or Game of Thrones.  

So here's my proposal... turn off the TV, and volunteer. When your 90 year old bones are starting to slow you down, you'll look back and think that you spent 10% of your life sitting in front of an electronic square. For what? Did Top Chef inspire your culinary side to start eating better? Did Amazing Race teach you about alt he places you should go visit? What are you gaining by watching 5 hours of TV a week?
For just 3 hours more in a month you can change a life.

Have I convinced you yet? I know that volunteering isn't always an ideal situation. I have volunteered for a LARGE gamut of events and programs in the last few years, and very rarely have I felt my skills being really utilized. I had many experience where I would show up to volunteer only to carry a shovel a couple of yards and chat with someone, or spend half of my time being shuffled from one station to another, not actually getting to excel in one thing. But going through that experience was helpful in it's own. I learned what types of programs I like, and what type of people I am successful at volunteering with.

I would recommend going to a place that you already like to spend time- like the Library, a museum or a bike shop. As much as we think of volunteering as free services, it's rarely ever free. I've received so many goodies as a volunteer- from fantastic (and not so yummy) food, to bike lights, t-shirts and many wonderful memories.

Ready to act? Check out, or head down to your local food shelter. Some co-ops will give incentives such as discount cards in exchange for some hours worked. Commit to one day a month at first, and try more if you can. The rewards are endless.
But what about my TV?

Pick your favorite show, one that you're really going to get something out of, and spend the rest of the time doing something real for yourself- like a self pedicure, learning a new instrument or writing a letter to a long lost friend, or spending time helping others.


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