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You Get More When You Give

Volunteer works the soil
Christ Thomsen 6/4/2011

For my avid followers (are you out there?), you may recall that I previously described my trials during Super Storm (why can't we all just call it a Hurricane) Sandy, and the random (or not so random) acts of kindness I experienced. In the research world we call this "informal" volunteering: people helping out neighbors. It seems a lot of folks help out in this informal way in addition to volunteering for organizations or charitable groups. AARP recently released a report on Civic Engagement that highlights the many ways Americans age 50 and older are engaged in their communities. In fact, equal numbers of those we surveyed volunteer more informally by helping in their communities as volunteer through an organization.

It seems volunteering is becoming more ingrained in everyday American life. Millennials are firmly ensconced in giving back - it was a part of their secondary and university education, and they expect it to continue throughout their lives. Nonprofit groups, like AARP, are obviously focused on helping society, but now even corporations (some, let's not go crazy) and commercial stores are embracing their social responsibility. It seems every time I go to the grocery store I have the opportunity to donate money to charity. Giving is all around me, and now it's even come to my office.

When I first joined the business world, firms never had Corporate Days of Giving or time off for volunteering, but now it's common practice. It's not only a great way to give back in communities where folks work, but lo and behold, it actually is fun! AARP has a Day of Service every September 11 th and this year I volunteered with Capitol Hill Ministries Group (CHMG) spending the day giving out food to the homeless in downtown Washington, D.C. Because I walk to work, I can see that the homeless situation is a big issue in the District, and on Day of Service I got an even closer glimpse.

The day included a four-mile walk to various parks and public places in D.C. with about 20 other AARP employees and handing out food. Walking five hours you really have a chance to get to know your colleagues and see more closely the world that we pass by every day rushing to and from work. Here in D.C., the need is tremendous - we ran out of lunches earlier than expected (the hot dogs were a big hit).

What was completely unexpected to me is how different the type of need is from what I thought. Many folks lost their jobs in the recession and just cannot find work. One young man I talked to in his 30s was out of a job, but totally up-to-date on current affairs and engaged me in a very interesting discussion about the (then) presidential candidates. While the charity network and government social programs have done a good job handling access to food, clothing and phones, these organizations just don't have enough money for enough shelter in an expensive area like D.C. Needless to say, a lot of folks end up having to make the street their home.

By the end of the day I was seeing Washington D.C., and its people, in a much different way, and I'm grateful for the experience. I may not be a Millennial, but it just reinforces what a great place AARP and other firms who encourage (and support!) volunteering are to work for.


Photo credit: WAstateDNR @ Flickr.

More on Becky: Becky is AARP's Senior Vice President of Research & Strategic Analysis, and is focused on fostering understanding of the interests and concerns of people age 50+ and their families. Before coming to AARP, Becky served as the Vice President of Global Market Research & Guest Satisfaction for Starwood Hotels & Resorts. In her spare time, she likes visiting her niece in Ohio, gardening, and collecting American Art and antiques.

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