We have all had those mornings. You know, the particularly evil, “What did I ever do to deserve this?!” kind of mornings. Well, I had a truly epic one recently. I won’t bore you with the details, yet I will say it involved rain, two especially uncooperative dogs, a stubbed toe, a ripped stocking, a broken high heel shoe, a forgotten breakfast, little sleep the night before, and a late entrance into a morning meeting.

Just when I was ready to fling open the conference room door, run out into the rain, squint up into the sky and yell, “Whyyyyyyyyyyyy?!”, I stopped. There it was. Perspective.

Somewhere, someone couldn’t afford to pay their bills, someone else was saying their final goodbye to a loved one, and a lonely dog was wondering why his owners left him at the scary shelter.

The rest of my day went off without a hitch or else I simply didn’t notice otherwise.

During one of my volunteer experiences years ago, I distinctly remember the woman who ran the program commenting on the motivations of some of the other volunteers. “They just want something to put on their resume,” she huffed. I remember wondering why that was an issue.

Today, as a volunteer program manager, I spend quite a bit of time thinking about motivation for volunteers. Why are they here? What do they need to get out of this to continue volunteering? The thing is, no matter the motivation, I support it. You want to keep your resume relevant? I can work with that. You truly love the mission and want to be involved in shaping its applications? You are always welcome here. You’re looking for a way to fill your time in between jobs? I can help you with that!

As National Volunteer Appreciation Week winds down, I wanted to share my motivation for volunteering. I volunteer to expand my corner of the world and learn the most effective ways to work with people I may not normally have the opportunity to work with. I volunteer to “adjust my zen.” I volunteer for perspective.

It’s amazing what cleaning a dirty dog kennel or helping a terminally ill patient express himself or herself through writing will do to your level of focus. No wonder so many successful companies offer incentives for employees who volunteer or why several studies link volunteerism to living longer, happier lives.

So on this day, I thank you for volunteering. For Lehigh or otherwise. And I ask you – why do you volunteer?

Shannon Jaeger is the Director of Volunteer Engagement at Lehigh University. In her spare time, she volunteers with animal rescue groups, the Hispanic Center of the Lehigh Valley, and is the creator and executor of The Legacy Letters Project, a service provided to terminally ill patients and their families in which the cathartic art of writing facilitates emotional and mental aspects of care, specifically end-of-life care. 

Share your one word motivation for volunteering with Shannon by emailing her at shj211@lehigh.edu, or share on Lehigh’s social media accounts using the hashtag #whyivolunteer. For more information about volunteerism, contact our Volunteer Engagement team at volunteer@lehigh.edu.

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