Most of us have heard people say something along the lines of “I get more out of it than they do” when talking about the volunteer experience. Some will even couch that statement with “I know it sounds cliché, but …” as if others may not believe the genuine feeling they get from their belief.
However, it’s a statement that should be celebrated without an ounce of shame, because it highlights the truth about the volunteer experience.
When we volunteer, we can find common ground with others we may have perceived as different from ourselves. We discover new passions and gifts that can be shared with others. We realize that serving someone in need often happens in a positive atmosphere.
Feeling personally fulfilled, refreshed or excited about lending a hand to someone else is more than just gratifying. Those feelings are also catalysts that will bring you back for more.
If volunteering were a drag or unfulfilling, people wouldn’t have done it amid a pandemic — more than 23% of the U.S. population did, according to an AmeriCorps report. The impact made by those 60.7 million Americans helped others better handle or face their circumstances during a difficult time.
With DAV (Disabled American Veterans), the charity I represent, service to others is why we exist. We’re committed to helping make whole those forever changed by their time in the military. A huge part of how we do that is through selfless volunteers who give their most valuable resource: their time.
Our volunteers come from all walks of life and backgrounds. Some are DAV members; others are friends and supporters of the veteran community. All make a difference in veterans’ lives.
One thing our volunteers help with is running our nationwide DAV Transportation Network for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Through this program, we provide no-cost rides to veterans who otherwise wouldn’t have access to lifesaving and critical VA medical appointments. When COVID-19 hit, we lost many of these drivers as the country effectively shut down. But even as things are largely back to normal, many of our Transportation Network vehicles remain idle, waiting for volunteers to get behind the wheel.
Every vehicle that doesn’t move means a veteran isn’t getting a needed ride or paying expensive transportation fees for each necessary trip. So if you are willing and able to drive veterans to their appointments, even if you have just a few hours a month, go to driveforveterans.org to sign up or get more information.
But the DAV Transportation Network is just one opportunity we offer volunteers. We have many other ways to be involved, both in VA medical facilities and right in your community. You can learn more about those at volunteerforveterans.org.
Volunteering changes lives — and not just those on the receiving end. If you choose to raise your hand to give your time, I hope you’re able to say you got more out of it than the people you’ve served. It’s a wonderful gift you receive in exchange for that most precious resource.
John Kleindienst is the national director of voluntary services for DAV and an active volunteer. Kleindienst is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served from 1996 until he was medically discharged in 2003 as a result of service-connected injuries. That same year, he joined DAV’s professional staff and was appointed to his current position at National Headquarters in 2014.