April is National Volunteer Month — a month to honor and thank the volunteers in our communities, as well as a time to encourage volunteerism throughout the month and year.
For Cedar Rapids, our volunteer month was September 2016. That was the month thousands of Cedar Rapidians showed up and volunteered to help save our city. Most did so knowing their own home or business was not at risk, but our city was in danger. Our neighbors, friends and others we didn’t yet know were in danger — and so we showed up: young and old, rich and poor, volunteers from every part of the community and from every walk of life. If you were there, you could not help but be inspired by the effort.
After what we’ve been through the last nine years Cedar Rapids is and should be a model for volunteering. In fact, we should be the volunteer capital of the world and I think we can be. The feeling of giving back, belonging and making a difference enriches our lives and strengthens our communities. Opportunities to volunteer and work side by side with friends and others can be recreated throughout the year without our community facing a natural disaster. United Way’s Day of Caring is a great example of how to organize large and small groups of volunteers, and can be a springboard for engaging more and more of us in giving back. There are ongoing needs in our community — needs that just simply can’t be filled without the help of others. Our amazing nonprofit community can always use a willing hand, as can the elderly couple on your block struggling to keep up with their yard or home maintenance, the single mom or dad or a homebound friend, etc.
We often hear that people new to Cedar Rapids want to find a way to connect and to belong. Others, young and old, want to do the same. There are many studies that reveal the value of volunteering for a community, for the organizations with whom people volunteer and for the volunteers themselves. Studies also show how volunteering will benefit the volunteer’s career and that employees who volunteer are better employees. Volunteering, and living in a community full of volunteers, is a win-win for everyone. It is the secret to being a more welcoming and engaged community. It also allows us to engage our young people, our young professionals and our seniors in meaningful ways to give back, engage and connect.
I encourage you to find a volunteer opportunity you enjoy. Ask your friends and neighbors how they are volunteering. Invest some time to get involved. You can also go to United Way’s VolunteerNow website to find volunteer opportunities. There is nothing quite as rewarding as serving others and working with others who want to do the same.
If you were sandbagging last September, I’m sure you felt a sense of belonging, knowing you were playing a part in saving our city. Maybe it’s time to add to our city slogan about the fifth season: ”a season to enjoy the other four and to give back.” What a wonderful community this is and how much stronger we are when we all give back. Happy volunteering.
• Bradley G. Hart is a business attorney at Bradley & Riley, an active community volunteer and a candidate for Cedar Rapids mayor.