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Giving back -- one act of generosity at a time

I’m so fortunate to see extraordinary examples of generosity on a daily basis. I witness the generosity of time so many Champaign County residents give to matters that are important to them. I also see the financial generosity of so many who make monetary gifts of all sizes to help those that need a helping hand. What I’ve grown to realize is the good feeling that comes when we do something to help others is not proportional to the amount of time or the amount of money; it’s simply in the act of giving itself.

Research point towards the emotional and physical health benefits of giving: Less isolation, lower blood pressure and decreased stress, just to name a few. But the benefits of giving go far beyond the physical perks:

Giving helps strengthen your community: From picking up litter to serving meals at a soup kitchen, when you enhance the quality of life for others you improve the human condition in your community making it a place that others want to live and work.

Giving increases social connections: New to town? Volunteering is a great way to meet people with similar interests.

Giving offers opportunities to grow skills or learn new ones: Maybe you are good with woodworking, so advance your skills by volunteering on a house build or home repair project.

Giving allows you to explore new places or ideas: Interested in gardening? Look into urban farming programs that can teach you as you volunteer.

Giving makes a difference: You might like direct service, behind-the-scenes work or prefer to make a monetary donation to something you care about.

Giving offers the chance to share expertise: Good with technology? Offer to build and maintain a website for an organization or cause.

Giving offers the chance to develop leadership and organizational skills: Every great effort or cause needs a leader.

Giving looks good on a resume or job application: Volunteering can be a way to learn a new skill, increase your knowledge base or demonstrate time management, leadership qualities and communication skills that increase your attractiveness to potential employers.

Giving helps reduce costs for many nonprofits: The value of a volunteer’s time averages across the nation at $24.69 per hour.

There are so many opportunities to give. How do you make the right choice? Giving is not limited to just charities that serve people experiencing difficulties. Schools, parks and recreation departments, environment groups, the arts, elected officials and municipalities all have opportunities to serve others.

Getting started:

Passion – Find a cause/social issue that is important to you. Seek to understand how volunteers and financial contributions are already being utilized within your identified cause.

Consider your skills/strengths – teaching, organizing, technology, caregiving, carpentry, other aspects of your personality, etc.

Calendar – Review your current commitments. Outline how much time commitment you are able to give in volunteerism.

Consider your budget as a family; how much are you comfortable giving each week, month, via payroll deduction, annual contribution, auction or special event? Also, how many charities or causes are you willing to support and at what level?

Consider volunteer opportunities available in your individual schedule already:

  • Greet newcomers at church, visit homebound parishioners or those in the hospital.
  • Help set up for a race or event you plan to participate in. Since you’ll be there already, why not help?
  • Perhaps a homebound senior neighbor needs rides to the store or appointments, the lawn mowed or leaves raked.

Help your children, family and friends look for these types of opportunities right before their eyes. Model the behavior you hope to instill in your children. Children who volunteer are more likely to volunteer as an adult. Share with them why you volunteer and/or donate. Research together the causes or organizations you wish to invest your time and your money into.

It’s time to forget the old saying about giving until it hurts; give until it feels good!

Beverley “Bev” Baker serves as the Director of Community Impact for United Way of Champaign County (UWCC). Baker joined UWCC in January 2007 and works directly with issues and needs facing young children, their families and the community. 

Baker is a graduate of St. Ambrose University with a degree in elementary education, a minor in psychology and additional coursework in early child education. Her professional experiences include those of teacher, child care center director, grant coordinator and a history of working with community leaders, organizations and businesses representatives on collaborative efforts in Champaign County and previously in communities located in Iowa and Indiana.

Baker was awarded Central Illinois Business Magazine’s 40 Under 40 Woman of Year in 2010. She is a volunteer in the community and a wife and mother of two boys.