You thought I was going to say it’s the volunteer who gains the most, but I don’t think it is.
For a little over three years now, I’ve been volunteering as a photographer for Kids of Courage, which is a volunteer-based organization that arranges getaways and adventures for children and young adults with serious disabilities and/or illnesses. After the first trip, I came back with more life lessons than you can pack into four years of high school, but it was hard for my family to deal with me being gone for nine days.
Before the next trip, which was a long weekend in the winter that culminated in a day of adaptive skiing, my husband and I decided to take along the kids so they could benefit from the fun side of my volunteer work. I was a bit apprehensive about how my blessedly healthy children would respond to seeing so many of their contemporaries with serious challenges. It didn’t take long for me to be completely reassured that it was the right decision. Each of my children participated in their own way; one danced with the smaller campers on his shoulders, one made fast friends with the girls her age and the littlest one enjoyed playing games with some new friends whose limited mobility gives them more patience to play endless rounds of Connect Four.
One of the highlights for me as a mother was when my 2-year-old started pointing at the feet of a little girl in a wheelchair and exclaimed, “We have matching purple boots!!” She didn’t even notice that the other purple boots were on legs that can’t walk. Only that they’re purple, just like hers.
So, the answer to my question of who benefits most from volunteering is the people around us. Our children, our nieces and nephews, our neighbors. My sister and brother-in-law hosted a Shabbaton for Kids of Courage. Several of our nieces and nephews helped out or simply came to join the fun. Just a couple of weeks ago, three of our nephews came to join us on the latest Shabbaton as “junior logistics crew” along with our own children. They packed and shlepped and served. They sang zemiros, danced on Motzei Shabbos, and pushed wheelchairs around Manhattan on Sunday. And they gained the most.
They gained the knowledge that children with disabilities are just like them. That they just want to have a good time and make good friends with other children. They want to laugh with you and not be laughed at. And my children, and my siblings’ children, and my neighbors’ children—because, yes, we’ve hosted many people with disabilities at our home—will grow up with that knowledge in their hearts. And they will spread that knowledge as they grow up and become volunteers in their own right.
You may think you don’t have it in you to volunteer, but you do. You may think you don’t have it in you to volunteer, but you do. It may not be in this arena, but use your strengths and talents to help someone else. Because in the end, you will benefit yourself and all the people around you. It may be hard, it may be inconvenient, but, oh, is it ever worth it.