I was blessed with a grandmother who instilled in my siblings and myself the value—and joy—of giving back. My grandmother was a “pink lady,” a volunteer at our local veterans’ hospital. As a child, I hoped to follow in her footsteps, and become a “candy striper” at our local children’s hospital when I was old enough.

My first experience of volunteerism was on the receiving end. The hospital volunteers coming to my aid as a young child when I was hospitalized for several eye surgeries provided me with very special experiences that began my love for hospitals. I remember a volunteer named Penny helping me shape wires to form petals that were then dipped into a special medium. I did this “blindfolded” since my eyes were completed patched following surgery. When the petals were dry, in my darkness, we formed flowers and then bunched them into bouquets. The day my eye patches were removed I had a big surprise—gorgeous translucent colored bouquets of flowers! It was this very experience that motivated me to want to give that same feeling of joy to another hospitalized child.

Working with kids in hospitals over the years has rewarded me with a long-lasting inner satisfaction. Now, many years later, I can see how consistent volunteering throughout my life has ignited my passions, challenged me to stretch myself, and in fact, helped me define who I really am. Listening to patients’ stories and forming genuine connections with them has inspired me to form authentic relationships with everyone in my life.

This month we will profile SoaringWords, an organization which promotes giving of yourself to hospitalized children and their families, which they believe generates the Power to Heal Within. SoaringWords motivates hospitalized children and their families to “pay it forward” by creating gifts for other hospitalized children. In the process, they boost their own self-esteem and self-confidence, which can have positive effect on their own physical health as well. Be sure to look for our profile of SoaringWords on our website, October Update, or Facebook page next week.

Researchers at the London School of Economics, according to a study in the journal Social Science and Medicine, examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness, and found that the more people volunteered, the happier they were. Compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy.  For more information on the benefits of volunteering for both body and soul, see “Benefits of Volunteering” and “Volunteering May Be Good For Body and Mind“.

How should you get started? Finding the right opportunity to give of yourself is a balancing act between one’s practical situation, passions, talents and time. Consider contacting your local hospital, child’s school, place of worship, community center, or visit websites with online listings of volunteer opportunities such as VolunteerMatch.  Evaluate opportunities according to your passions and personal style. (Are you more an office person or a direct service provider? Do you love the outdoors or do you prefer museums?) What are your goals in volunteering? (Do you want to meet more people? Develop new job skills? Try something new? Use a special skill you have? Give back?) Don’t forget that if formal volunteering is not something you can commit to at this point, try embracing the concept of being a “micro volunteer,” doing small tasks, which can have great collective impact when combined with the efforts of other volunteers.  Read more about that here. You will likely be rewarded with improved personal satisfaction, health, and happiness in your life.

Sheri Brisson
Sheri Sobrato Brisson is a brain tumor survivor who discovered the importance of self-reflection during her recovery. From her personal illness experience and a dozen years supporting families and children with serious illness, her life’s philanthropic mission is to empower families and children facing serious illness. She has started and facilitated support groups for children with illness and their families for over twenty years with organizations such as the American Cancer Society, National Brain Tumor Foundation, Ronald McDonald House, and Packard Children’s Hospital. She has served as Board Member for many children’s health nonprofit organizations including American Cancer Society San Jose, UCSF/Mt. Zion Auxiliary, Creighton Health Institute, and Okizu Foundation. Brisson received her master’s degree in counseling from Santa Clara University and her undergraduate degree in human biology from Stanford University.

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