Unite in Service During National Volunteer Week

Volunteerism may be an atypical topic for a travel blog, but service can say a lot about a community, and its people. (Just take Boston as a recent example, and the heroes who helped strangers, plus nations that united around them.) It also can be the impediment to some great adventures—with even greater reward, and certainly lasting memories.

For me, a service trip to San Lucas, Guatemala, in high school will always be vibrant in my memory. I remember the kids peeking out from battered fences as we trudged flooded streets during their rainy season; the colorful blankets and bracelets brought to us while tasting local cuisine; the joy as mothers stared in wonder at Polaroids of their children, and the ache in my legs and heart as I carried stones up a hill, wishing I could do more.

But we don’t have to go that far from home to lend a helping hand and embrace a new community.

It’s National Volunteer Week (April 21-27), and options abound on a regular basis. This week, first recognized back in 1974, is all about uniting, renewing our vigor for helping fellow (wo)man, and celebrating those who are already accomplishing great things through service.

I’m proud to report that Minnesota has a long history in service and volunteerism. In 2007, the Corporation for National and Community Service announced the top 50 large cities that have the strongest rates of volunteerism, and Minneapolis-St. Paul was first on the list; and has graced it many more times, landing fourth in 2012. CNCS also reports that about 64.3 million Americans, or 26.8 percent of the adult population, gave 7.9 billion hours of volunteer service worth $171 billion in 2011.

Now that’s a lot of volunteering—let’s keep it going.

I couldn’t possibly list all of Minnesota’s deserved organizations, but VolunteerMatch.org is a fabulous localized way to search for one that feels right. Just enter your location and interested cause area(s) and options will be presented, with info and ways to follow up. GetInvolved.gov is another search engine with helpful, city-specific guidance.

Ultimately, you never know whom you’ll meet, where you’ll go, or the lives you’ll affect.

President Obama perhaps said it best in his recent proclamation:

“Ordinary men and women have stepped forward and accomplished extraordinary things together, uniting as friends and neighbors and fellow citizens. The strength they have shown reminds us that even in our darkest hours, we look out for each other. We pull together. And we move forward as one. During National Volunteer Week, let us tap into that spirit once more.”