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Volunteerism: A Beautiful Exchange

Article by Urban Alliance staff. Photos by UA Staff and Network Participants.

"Authentic relationships with those in need have a way of correcting the we-will-rescue-you mind-set and replacing it with mutual admiration and respect." (Bob Lupton, Toxic Charity)

One of the biggest motivations for volunteering is to help people who are in need. After all, volunteerism opens the door to contribute to a "feel good" impact in the community and make it a better place. 

But, consider this. Everyone will find themselves in need - whether physical, emotional, social or economical - at some point in their lives. That includes you. Even now you might be on both sides of the service cycle: maybe you are a tutor for someone who can't read or help out at a food pantry, while last month the volunteer ambulance corps rushed you to the emergency room. 

Instead of viewing volunteerism as something done for people who are less fortunate, consider thinking of it as an exchange.

"At Urban Alliance, we work with volunteers of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, who genuinely want to make a difference," explained Sarah Thompson, Urban Alliance's Director of Communications & Volunteer Mobilization. "They see a need and want to help, and look to us to make that happen. Before a volunteer gets matched through our volunteer program, UAServe, we challenge them to think about what gifts or talents they have, and we emphasize that all people, including those in need, have strengths."    

Some people are uncomfortable with the idea that a volunteer "benefits" from serving, from the long tradition of seeing volunteerism as a form of charity, based on the principle of selflessness. But, when a volunteer can see the benefits both to and from the recipient of their service, it upholds the dignity of those who are served, and opens the door for authentic relationships to be forged.

"It's a beautiful thing when volunteers share stories about how much they were blessed by a person they helped through a UAServe volunteer opportunity," said Thompson. "It's exciting when they begin to see the people they are serving as Jesus sees them, and who can profoundly impact their lives."

Volunteering doesn't just make the world better, it makes people who volunteer better. Studies show that volunteering can boost happiness, health, and a person's sense of purpose and well-being.

After all, altruism is contagious. Why not start now?

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