The art of giving back

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What comes to mind when you think of giving back? In the movie The blind side, Sandra Bullock’s character, Leigh Anne Tuohy, shows a young man named Big Mike (played by Quinton Aaron) a simple kindness that ultimately changes the trajectory of his life. When I think about the meaning of volunteering and mentoring, I think of stories like this. Whatever your approach, the impact on the community and the contributor can be transformational.

Charity, philanthropy and random acts of kindness

According to a new study provided by Fidelity Charitable, 62% of charities are also recent volunteers. Often, donors will give financially before committing to volunteering with a nonprofit organization.

Although giving financially is not an option, giving of your time is an equally valuable contribution. The volunteer hour can be quantified nationally and is equivalent to $29.95 per hour.

Whatever your situation, there are many ways to contribute to the causes that interest you. If you’re just getting started, there are things you can do that require minimal time and money. A random act of kindness is a simple gesture that can not only make you feel good, but also change the course of the day for the person who receives your gift.

Where to start

With thousands of charities and philanthropic organizations to choose from, it can seem like a daunting task to select the one that meets your goals. A good way to narrow down your options is to think about what you would like to accomplish with your service.

As the recipient of constant mentorship through a non-profit organization as a child, I can attest to the profound effects my mentoring relationship had on my interpersonal growth and development. As an adult, I knew that I wanted to be a mentor for young people, to support them when they felt alone and to guide them to reach their full potential. Once you’ve chosen the organization that’s right for you, the benefits you’ll receive could be life-changing for you and those you influence.

The benefits of volunteering

If you’re still unsure if volunteering is for you, consider the unintended benefits of giving back.

Volunteering not only provides a valuable service to your community, it also improves your overall mental and physical well-being. Helping others releases endorphins in our body which defend against the effects of stress, depression and anxiety. These “good feelings” contribute to our sense of self-confidence and long-term happiness.

Philanthropy also allows personal and professional networks to grow, exposing you to new opportunities.

It takes a village

For me, the decision of where to volunteer was an easy choice. In 1995, I was matched with my mentor through Big Brothers Big Sisters. Our relationship began with long walks around her neighborhood, where I could ask her anything that came to mind without judgment, knowing that her answers would always be thoughtful and compassionate. She exposed me to my first volunteer experience taking shelter puppies to visit a local hospice. I still remember the joy our visit brought to residents and staff.

When I expressed an interest in chemistry, my older sister secured me a place to attend a STEM summer camp for girls, where I could explore various engineering disciplines. His investment in my success was the difference between thinking I couldn’t go to college and receiving a full scholarship to study chemical engineering, becoming a first-generation college graduate. Early in my career, she taught me how to budget to achieve my financial goals and encouraged me to keep giving back to drive it forward.

Taking the lessons my Big Sister shared with me, I continued the legacy she started. In 2014, I became a Big Sister. Between kayaking, horseback riding, and rock climbing, we covered how to navigate changing friendships, understand our parents, and do challenging homework. A few years later, I’m thrilled to report that my little sister has been awarded a full scholarship to study marketing and will soon be a first-generation graduate as well.

I recently joined the Big Brothers Big Sisters Board of Directors, where I can contribute my knowledge and skills to support the continued growth of the agency and help more local children who are like me and like my Little Sister. . It’s amazing to witness the impact and systemic change that my philanthropic work has on my Little Sister and my community.

Whether you can lend a helping hand or engage in a lifetime of friendship as a mentor, the art of giving, on all levels, makes a remarkable difference to another human and is a deeply rewarding experience.

Image Credit: Dragana Gordic /

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