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Do you matter? Does the work you do matter? Are you feeling (mainly because there’s this pandemic going on) like “what difference does all this make?” Sometimes there are days like that, even weeks. That’s why I have stories that I clutch to my heart for times like these. Here’s one of mine in brief:

There was something so familiar about her. Her eyes crinkled as she spoke. I’d seen that chin before, but it was her mannerisms that gave me deja vu. She was like reuniting with a good friend after a long absence.
“I’m Bree,” she said, holding out her hand and we shook, a familiar warmth cursing through my arm. We walked back to my office and she sat down, her eyes taking in everything as though she had seen it before in another life.

“My name is Bree Phillips and I want to volunteer here.” I didn’t recognize her name, but she continued. “I just moved here to be near my mother. Mom is getting older, and I need to take care of her. But I have some free time to give, and really, I’m here because of my father. He volunteered here many years ago.”
“No kidding,” I said, still puzzled over the name Phillips, “who is your father?”
“George Keenon,” she said.
My mouth dropped open. “Your dad is George Keenon?”
“Yes,” she answered, “do you remember him?”

I knew him so well

It suddenly dawned on me, those eyes, her chin, the mannerisms, I was looking at a clone of George. In that instant, I felt like I was sitting with him again, enjoying his stories of growing up on a farm, his love for family and helping others. George roamed the halls of the hospice care center, complementing the nurses and stopping to acknowledge a broken heart. I remember one day, when a patient asked to see Frank Sinatra, George agreed to “be Frank” and when he entered the room, she looked at him with a smirk and said, “whoa, you really let yourself go!” After that, our little inside joke was, “whoa, you let yourself go.” George was light and air and life itself all in one.

Bree told me that before her father died, he told her to go volunteer at a hospice. “He was always talking about his experiences here,” she said. ” I swear, he had this long, great career in business, but he spoke more fondly about his connections to the patients.” Bree’s eyes brimmed with so much emotion. “I want to honor my father by following in his footsteps. I want to do something that lights me up the way it lit up my dad.”

Do we ever really know?

We, Leaders of Volunteers, operate in the intangible world: Goodness, Hope, Love, Charity, Personal Growth, Awareness, Connection, Discovery. Trying to measure these intangibles is like explaining why your dog loves you. He just does.

We invest in people. But we don’t often measure our investment’s growth. We’re too overwhelmed with daily work to stop and take stock of our positive influence on volunteers and our missions. So, when these incidents like the Bree story occur, we stop spinning and realize that all of our work has far-reaching effects.

You will never hear all the positive influence you’ve had. You’ll hear about some, but not all. That’s why I cling to my stories and quotes and even the look a volunteer gives me when they know, I mean really know that they have touched another person’s heart. I cling to the tears, the restarts, and the joyous celebrations. I fiercely hold the deep ache of volunteers’ souls when they share why they volunteer or their fears of inadequacy, or a pain from their youth.

What we do know

Maybe filling out a report doesn’t change the world. So, ok, making a quick phone call doesn’t alter the history of mankind. And sure, conducting a zoom meeting doesn’t solve societal ills. But look at all the good you produce. Look at your sphere and see what you radiate: Kindness, understanding, encouragement, belief in the goodness of others, acceptance, hope, inspiration, a willingness to listen and learn.

You matter. Big time. And, do me a favor, ok? Forget for a moment the idea that you have to have earth-shattering successes to matter. Instead, feel contentment at how much you matter to so many people who may not say so. Feel satisfied that so much of your life is spent doing something meaningful. Feel fulfillment in how you engage and encourage people to be better. Embrace the satisfaction of knowing you’ve changed lives for the better. Feel privileged to have found something that fills your soul with meaning. Feel gratified that you are strong enough to go on.

You matter to all of us

We, volunteer managers are fighting for professional recognition, for more meaningful volunteer involvement, for seats at the planning table, and for volunteerism to be recognized as a society-changing force for good.

Yes, we fight. But even the fighter has a moment alone, when the enormity of the fight presses down on wearied shoulders. Contentment comes, not from being complacent, but from understanding you matter.

Let your “Bree” stories fill your heart to fight another day.