Over the years, I’ve been pretty involved with community service… I devoted a year of my life to AmeriCorps (the domestic equivalent of the Peace Corps) worked for 3 years at my college’s community service office, served indigenous farmers in Peru, and have been involved with Habitat for Humanity and World Relief for a number of years now.
But, despite this seemingly solid record of giving back – I have to admit it was all a fairly scattered attempt at serving my community. While I learned a lot, I can’t honestly say that I deeply impacted the lives of the people I volunteered with. Was it fun? Yes. Did I do a good thing for the inner city kids I worked with in AmeriCorps? Yes. Was it good that I helped with a Habitat build every once in awhile in college? Probably. Did I profoundly change someone’s life for the better? No.
You see, I don’t think we deeply serve our community by a one day volunteer project building a house, reading to a kid at a distressed school, or (dare I say) the weeklong trip to a “third world country”. Mind you, I don’t think these things are bad… but I don’t know that they are all that good either…
What if we all had just one cause that had deep meaning for us that we devoted 10 hours to each week? What if that was the only cause we focused on? What if everyone did this?
I’ll give you an example – about a year ago, I decided that I was going to focus my ten hours serving each week (I think just about everyone should have 8-10 hours of volunteering each week, but that’s another topic for another day…) on just one organization – World Relief. World Relief helps incoming refugees acclimate to life in the U.S. The reality is, the number of families coming far exceeds the capacity of World Relief’s support staff, so they need volunteers to help families navigate tasks such as renting an apartment, grocery shopping, and making appointments. For refugees thrust into a strange country because of circumstances beyond their control, even the small things become daunting. I knew I could help, so I work with the same family each week. I teach them English, help them navigate appointments, and just generally make sure they aren’t lost in a system they don’t understand…
See, the key here is, I’m building a relationship of trust and deep friendship with them. Because I only focus on them, we can really get into our English lessons or just go to a cultural outing on a Friday night. Again, it’s not more than ten hours, but its focused, it’s deliberate, and I will be a part of their lives for the foreseeable future. I know in my heart I’ll make a far deeper, far more meaningful impact in their lives than a one-time service event.
What if we all did this? What if everyone had one cause they devoted ten hours (and heck, while I’m at it, 10% of their resources) to each week? We could change our country! Every kid struggling to read could have a reading partner every week who, get this, wouldn’t disappear!! No refugee family would have to arrive to the U.S. only to be defeated by systems they simply do not understand. Most importantly, this would do more to bridge the gap between races, between the rich and the poor, between refugee and resident than just about anything else out there.