April is National Volunteer Month, a month in which we celebrate the work volunteers do in our communities as well as encouraging voluntarism throughout the month.
The Junior League is an organization of women committed to promoting voluntarism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Mary Harriman founded the first Junior League in 1901 in New York City to improve the lives of the immigrants in her community. The Junior League of Billings (JLB) was founded in 1954 and joined the Association of Junior Leagues International (AJLI) in 1970. We will be celebrating our 50th anniversary of joining the AJLI in just two short years.
Why do we volunteer? This question was asked of women in our League and their inspiring responses include:
- to make a difference,
- to help our community,
- to be an example for our children,
- to learn new skills from other powerful women,
- to create joy,
- because I get more than I give,
- to spread love and caring to others,
- to develop and empower women leaders,
- to work with community partners to make Billings a better place,
- and because I have a passion for thinking outside the box.
Where do we volunteer? Many women choose to spend time volunteering for organizations they are passionate about. Schools, churches, hospitals, and many non-profit organizations that care for women and their families are often beneficiaries of passionate volunteers. Volunteering can be used as a way to advocate for causes you are passionate about. The Junior League of Billings’ trained volunteers have partnered with many local organizations and have provided volunteers for countless activities. This year Ronald McDonald House, Montana Rescue Mission, Wise Wonders Children’s Museum, Wild Words, ECI, Girls in Science, Salvation Army, and the Girl Scouts have all benefited from the volunteer work provided by the JLB. The current focus of the Junior League of Billings is poverty and homelessness. The Junior League of Billings has also been hosting free laundry events once a month since March 2016 at a local laundromat to serve our community.
In what ways does volunteering benefit the volunteer? Volunteers notice a decrease in depression and stress symptoms and an increase in self esteem. Volunteering keeps you mentally and physically active and helps you sleep better and feel healthier. Volunteers also benefit by learning new skills and developing the skills they already possess, gaining experiences that may help their career, becoming part of a community, meeting and gaining new friends, and gaining confidence and a sense of purpose.
How do you thank or recognize your volunteers? Many volunteers receive thank you cards and verbal thank you’s. Volunteers at schools are treated to a luncheon provided by staff, hospital volunteers receive free flu shots and special recognition events. Church volunteers may receive a small gift during Christmas or other holidays. The Junior League of Billings has members fill out recognition cards at each membership meeting for those they wish to thank or honor for their contributions during the month. Two members are then chosen to receive a small gift. Each year the Junior League of Billings honors one woman to be the Volunteer of the Year. She is selected because of her dedication, attitude, outstanding volunteerism in both League and community activities, and for her inspiration to others. The Volunteer of the Year is nominated by her peers and chosen by the nominating committee. She will receive a gift from the League and will be surprised at the year-end meeting in May by her family.
Most volunteers do not volunteer in order to receive recognition. The benefits that volunteers gain to their mental and physical health by sharing their time and talent are reward enough for most. It does help to recognize and thank volunteers for their contributions in order to retain them in your organization. It does not need to take a lot of time or money to thank your volunteers. By mentioning them in an article, writing a thank you note, sharing a meaningful picture of them volunteering, or simply saying thank you are quick and meaningful ways to recognize your valued volunteers.
Find a way you can share your time and talent this year. Your body and mind will thank you, as well as those whom you help. Do not wait until you have more time or for the right time to volunteer. As Elizabeth Andrews says, “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.”