I’ll Do It
The Volunteering Life
By Jeanne Thomas
Photos courtesy of The Terraces of Boise.
The books came to a vacant warehouse in Boise, where volunteers like me set up the area and sorted mountains of titles. Bins of books arrived by the truckload and boxes by the carload, coming from businesses and individuals who had been receiving these donations for several weeks.
Picture books, storybooks, young reader novels, classic literature, used and new books—reading of all kinds for children and teens. As I formed row after row of books on tables, getting them ready for cleaning and checking, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the project, and the commitment of thousands of donors around Idaho.
This annual United Way book drive, held each April, was the first project of a volunteer program for seniors started by The Terraces of Boise, where I reside. Since then, we’ve been involved in a number of other volunteer efforts, such as going on the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and organizing donations at the Boise Rescue Mission thrift shop, but volunteerism has always been high on my list of priorities, thanks to my parents.
They were active volunteers when I was growing up, and taught me that part of my responsibility to society was to give back to the community through volunteerism. When I was a young child, my mother was a volunteer director of the community children’s theater. For me, it was exciting to see the plays and know some of the actors. During my elementary school and junior high years, I assisted with scenery and costume changes backstage. We also participated in church projects, such as singing for seniors during the holidays, gathering supplies for people at homeless shelters, or hosting clothing drives to collect coats and hats for people in need.
I remember one Christmas when I was in junior high, we were to help serve a holiday dinner at a shelter, but it was the same night as a party planned by one of my close friends. My parents gave me a choice to go with them or to attend the party. More from guilt than a desire to serve, I chose to go with them, but that night I met a girl just my age who was at the shelter with her mother. Her appreciation for my being there to sit and talk to her while she ate changed my attitude from guilt to gratitude.
In college, I was part of Alpha Phi Omega, a nationwide fraternity focused on service to others. We did high-profile projects and fundraising for issues and causes relevant to our university community. After graduation, I began my career as an accountant and financial manager. While it was often a challenge to fit volunteer hours into a busy work and parenting schedule, it remained an important priority in my life.
As a parent, I taught my children the value of giving back. We volunteered together, serving at food pantries such as the Boise Rescue Mission, participating in service projects through our church and serving at the senior living community where my grandmother lived. I have had the joy of watching my adult children continue to give back to their communities in significant ways, and I hope we can pass on this love for volunteerism to my grandchildren. My granddaughter now volunteers in the seniors community where I live, reading to residents and teaching painting classes as well. I’m very proud of her. Like my granddaughter, I also volunteer with other residents, by organizing games and crafts.
In the United Way book drive for which I volunteered with others, we worked for days to prepare the books, which were going to Head Start and preschool programs, small town libraries, and various other youth support organizations. All the while, I felt privileged to be part of something greater than myself, and was reminded once again that I could make a difference. The heartwarming feeling that volunteerism gives me is especially strong when I hear or see firsthand how it impacts other people.
At the Boise Rescue Mission’s thrift store recently, as I organized racks of clothing by style, hanging them up and making sure they faced in the right direction, two shoppers stopped and thanked me for making it easy for them to find what they needed. “It’s people like you who make it easier for me to feel okay about coming here to shop,” one lady said.
Comments like that make me feel that the small tasks I perform can make a difference in people’s lives.
At the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, several thousand people gathered in Meridian’s Julius M. Kleiner Memorial Park to participate. While getting ready to walk with some of my neighbors and friends, I noticed that a family next to me who also were gearing up for the walk had among them a loved one living with Alzheimer’s. I reached over to touch her and tell her that I was glad to be there with her. Seeing her smile and acknowledge that I cared brought joy to my heart.
Nowadays, I also volunteer with a community church, setting up audio and visual equipment for services. Our women’s ministry works with Chrysalis House, which supports women who have come out of incarceration or substance abuse as they re-enter society, providing a place to live while they get jobs and piece their lives back together. Our group provides recreational activities and social gatherings for the women, who are required to work and attend self-improvement courses. We’ve planned nights of bunco (a social dice game) and special dinners, provided the women with personal care items, and included them in church events.
I think my parents were right: volunteering my time, resources, and energy to give back to people in need is part of my responsibility to society. These volunteer projects connect me with other volunteers and with people in our greater community. They help me build relationships while enriching my life and the lives of others. Over the years, I’ve learned time and again just how much I receive from giving.