The Nashville Ledger

FLIGHT. 45 | NO. 48 | Friday, November 26, 2021

By Catherine Mayhew

Updated at 9:25 a.m.

French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville traveled to the United States in 1831 to study the American penal system. But he also noticed something which, while not unique to this nation, certainly runs through it more than in most other countries.

In Democracy of America, he noted:

“In the United States, as soon as several inhabitants have formed an opinion or an idea that they wish to promote in society, they seek each other and unite once contact has been established. From that moment, they are no longer isolated but have become a power seen from afar whose activities serve as an example and whose words are listened to.

Was he referring to political leaders or the titans of industry? No. He was talking about volunteers.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a volunteer as “a person who voluntarily undertakes or expresses a willingness to undertake a service”.

Volunteers are numerous at this time of year. Seasonal volunteers are somewhat akin to what regular devotees call “H2Os” – the devotees of Holiday Two Only who only attend services at Christmas and Easter.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are natural entry points for people – and families in particular – to set aside a few hours to help out various nonprofits during a busy time. Spaces for volunteers are limited as nonprofits want to make sure the experience is meaningful to those who volunteer their time.

“Nonprofits, in general, work very hard to ensure that the people who serve with them have a good volunteer experience,” says Robin Johnson, director of volunteer engagement for Fifty Forward. “We don’t have an open call for volunteers. We know they are coming. We know what they are going to do.

One of the most popular local volunteer activities is serving in the Nashville Rescue Mission.

–Photo provided

So there are two ways of looking at volunteering: the short view (hello, holiday season) and the longer view.

Volunteering is older than the United States itself. It started before the formation of the country when settlers helped each other build houses and plant crops. Benjamin Franklin founded the first volunteer fire station in 1736. During the War of Independence, settlers banded together to raise money for the war effort. The “tiny men” were all volunteers.

The social reform movement flourished in the 1800s and led to the creation of the Salvation Army, American Red Cross, YMCA, and United Way – organizations founded in some measure to link social services to volunteers.

Ladies Aid Societies were formed during the Civil War to create shirts, towels, sheets, tents, uniforms, and bandages for troops.

In the early 1900s, voluntary service organizations such as the Lions Club, Rotary, and Kiwanis were founded. And the advent of the Great Depression brought Volunteers of America to life. Of course, volunteering flourished during World War II, encompassing everything from entertaining troops to collecting supplies.

One of the first national efforts to coordinate volunteers was in response to the Great Depression, including the work of Volunteers of America. The postwar era brought the Peace Corps and the War on Poverty, which created an abundance of volunteer opportunities.

Each year, generous donors give Christmas presents to the elderly served by FiftyForward, who works carefully to ensure that these lists contain both “needs and wants” and then deliver the gifts to the elderly.

– Photographs provided

Today, more than a billion people around the world volunteer, according to the United Nations. And the Americans are leading the way. The Stanford Social Innovation Review reports that Americans are 15% more likely to volunteer than the Dutch, 21% more likely than the Swiss and 32% more likely than the Germans.

It may seem obvious why people give of their time – they want to do something for others. But there are other reasons. It turns out that volunteering is good for your health.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review reports that studies have shown that the act of giving has benefits for mental health, including alleviating depression and loneliness, feeling more socially connected, and gaining a better sense of the purpose of giving. life.

And there are also physical benefits. Carnegie Mellon’s research found that older volunteers who volunteered their time reduced the risk of high blood pressure by 40%.

The pandemic has fueled the desire to volunteer, finds a study by Points of Light, an organization that encourages and mobilizes people to volunteer. Before the pandemic, 36% of those surveyed said they had volunteered. The number rose to 73% as lockdown restrictions relaxed.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to feelings of isolation and helplessness,” the study says. “It has left people desperate to find new ways to connect with others and improve their mood. We have long known about the positive impact of volunteering and civic engagement on mental health and well-being. of an individual and our research confirms that health benefits are the primary motivators for civic engagement.

In Nashville, one of the most popular volunteer opportunities during the holidays is the Thanksgiving Dinner at the Nashville Rescue Mission. The mission is at the service of homeless men, women and children.

Volunteers deliver trays to tables at Nashville Rescue Mission “We love our volunteers,” says Michelle Brinson of Mission.

–Photo provided

“We love our volunteers and realize that the holidays are a wonderful time to serve,” says Michelle Brinson, director of communications and public relations. “So we try to amplify the opportunities during the holidays.”

For the two Thanksgiving dinners served by the mission, volunteers work in the kitchens and on the serving line, and carry trays to tables.

“Thanksgiving is really the holiday that gets the most attention because people think of gratitude,” she explains. “So we have the big Thanksgiving banquets. We do this on the Wednesday before and on Thanksgiving Day. Our need for volunteers for this is so high that we have a special registration. We do not activate these opportunities (on an online registration) until November 1st. And then it’s first come, first served.

Fifty Forward, which caters to seniors, is also going big for the holidays with Thanksgiving and Christmas meal deliveries and a holiday gift program.

“We’re like any other nonprofit,” says volunteer director Johnson. “We get a lot of interest in the volunteer opportunities during the holidays. People just feel generous.

Volunteers deliver 250 holiday meals to Fifty Forward customers. “It’s a really special day for us,” she adds. It is a family tradition for many Nashvillians. We start receiving requests for volunteer places from September. The delivery points have already been taken.

Nashville Rescue Mission serves three meals a day, providing plenty of volunteer opportunities.

–Photo provided

Another component of Thanksgiving volunteering involves school children. Students at Oak Hill School assembled 500 Thanksgiving bags with handmade cards, snacks and fresh fruit for the elderly. And it’s a volunteer opportunity that families can develop if they want to help.

“One of the great and easy things you can do is give greeting cards,” Johnson says. “We give out cards with meals and volunteers have the option of making these cards. It’s something a family can do together. These little extras go beyond the meal. It’s a great way to start getting involved. I know people are often looking for projects to do with their families.

Anyone wishing to take advantage of this option should send an email to [email protected]

While nonprofits will do their best to accommodate volunteers during the very exciting holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas, what they really hope is that these same people will come back in January and be committed to longer. the service.

Fifty Forward engages approximately 2,500 volunteers throughout the year who tutor children, deliver meals to seniors, help with cooking and sit on various committees related to the board of directors. “The vast majority really serve with us year-round,” says Johnson, although interest is highest during the holidays. “It’s always good for people when they think about volunteering over the holidays to make sure they keep the people they serve in mind. This is the ultimate goal. Whether it is an elderly person, a child or a family.

Volunteers also flock to the Second Harvest Food Bank in November and December, but the needs are greatest at other times of the year. The food bank needs extra hands every day to sort and wrap food donations and prepare special backpacks for children who do not have enough to eat at school and especially in the summer when they are not. at all educated.

“I don’t think people fully understand that our volunteer teams from September through December stay really full because people want to take their right turn for the holidays,” says Courtney Blaise, director of community engagement at Second Harvest. “But the truth is, we need a lot of help in January and February, spring break and summer. Holidays are a great time to introduce volunteering to your workplace or church, but I encourage (volunteers) to follow a regular schedule.

Blaise says the need for volunteers has been highlighted by the increase in the number of people experiencing food insecurity due to the pandemic. One in eight people and one in seven children go hungry from COVID-19.

“Hunger in Middle Tennessee is changing,” she says. “We have heard a lot of stories from people who visit the food bank for the first time. We see a lot of people who suddenly find themselves out of work and supporting their families. COVID has hit our service area hard. “

The Nashville Rescue Mission has one of the most visible vacation volunteer opportunities – serving meals on Thanksgiving. But the mission serves three meals a day every day of the year and it takes a lot of hands to get there.

“Since we serve three meals a day and are open 24/7, 365 days a year, the opportunities are plentiful,” says Michelle Brinson, communications and public relations manager. “Our greatest need is for the breakfast quarter and that’s all year round. A person or group could volunteer from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. they would help prepare and serve the meals. We have 600 to 700 people going through the line.

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