Ask anyone who volunteers why they do it, and you’ll likely get variations on the theme of ‘giving back.’ And while that motivation is sincere and commendable, there is also an underlying need for recognition – especially for retirees and especially during COVID-19 – for our efforts to make our communities better places.
I volunteer at my local food bank and write this column for the Experience in Action newsletter that RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) publishes three times a year. Both organizations are dedicated to their missions and understand they cannot achieve those missions without the help of volunteers.
Both organizations truly appreciate the contributions of their volunteers and show their gratitude in several ways. The food bank, for example, hosts two volunteer appreciation events a year, one in summer and one during the holiday season. At these gatherings, we learn about the health of the organization, share a meal, and socialize with other volunteers in a casual atmosphere.
While it’s wonderful and energizing to be appreciated by an organization, it’s even more powerful to be recognized and appreciated by food bank customers, who I have grown to see as friends. When I returned to the food bank after missing several weeks due to surgery, I was thrilled and gratified when customer after customer asked me where I’d been and told me that they missed me.
Appreciation flows in several directions. I appreciate the new friendships I’ve made with fellow volunteers and customers. I appreciate socializing with fellow volunteers and feel a sense of community and purpose. And when I file a column or finish a shift at the food bank, I feel good about myself for having done something useful.
But appreciation extends far beyond volunteering. During my working years, recognitions came in the forms of promotions, performance reviews, increased compensation, and acknowledgment from colleagues for a job well done. I never actively sought recognition, but it always made me feel good and inspired me to work harder and smarter.
Since retirement, I have discovered that the need for recognition is a powerful motivator. During my working and child-raising years, my wife and I were so busy with the various demands on our life that we didn’t take time to acknowledge each other for the multitude of things, big and small, that we did to keep our family moving forward. Today, with the kids out of the house and the pace of life less hectic, we make a point of thanking each other and acknowledging each other’s contribution to our pleasant home life.
My wife does the shopping and food preparation (she’s a great and imaginative cook), and I put the groceries away, do the dishes and cleanup, and perform minor home improvements to the best of my limited talents.
To be sure, my wife’s contribution dwarfs mine, and I have always appreciated her efforts, but I never told her how much I appreciated what she does. I do now and it feels good to tell her how much I appreciate what she does, and I hope she likes hearing it. We work well as a team, but she’s definitely the MVP.
Appreciation is a good habit to cultivate. Remember that recognition, like charity, begins at home.
If you’re 55+ and interested in learning more about volunteering through Solid Ground’s RSVP of King County, please contact RSVP Coordinator Megan Wildhood at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206.694.6786.