Opinion: Volunteering is a balm for what ails our spirits

Note: This op-ed originally ran in the Detroit Free Press.

I learned the value of volunteering at an early age, even before understood how impactful it can be. My parents exemplified lives of service, and they encouraged me to get involved in our community — not just as something to do, but to give something back, recognizing how blessed I was. We were raised to treat everyone with respect and dignity. This is a core value for me, and what I do today with United Way for Southeastern Michigan reinforces what I learned many years ago.

I can’t help but think that the lessons I learned — rolling up my sleeves and getting involved — helped shape who I am today. As another school year begins, I think about how many other young people could benefit from these experiences and seeing others’ challenges; acquiring the empathy and compassion necessary for themselves and our whole community.

Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Everybody can be great . . . because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

With all our country has gone through and the challenges that lie ahead, there may be an antidote for much of what ails us in the spirit of unselfish volunteering. Not for likes, social media posts, or personal accolades, but simply to make a difference.

Each year, United Way brings in students to learn more about the work we do. In these young people, we see hope for our collective futures. At the height of the pandemic, one student, Nishan Inampudi, learned firsthand the power of volunteering. He was clearly impacted by the experience — leaving us and returning to school to spread the message of lending a hand with his peers at his high school.

He has since rallied others at his school and become a real-world advocate for service. In fact, he told us he wants to work to create a United Way chapter at his school to continue to help however he can.

Nishan’s experience and subsequent action reinforce in me that the spirit of volunteerism is real and can be life-changing. My hope is that his passion for change will inspire others of all ages to do the same.I am constantly blown away by the passion of people in our community and their capacity to make a difference. There is no shortage of opportunities, but we do need more volunteers to step up and do the work for families, friends, and neighbors.

United Way has served those most in need across Southeast Michigan for more than one hundred years. We have phenomenal partners — from individuals and families to community groups and large organizations —that work alongside us, but we need even more to have the kind of impact we strive for. There are many opportunities, virtually and in person, where anyone can make a difference.

This year, we created a Volunteer Honor Roll, recognizing 34 of our most passionate advocates from the community. While they are grateful for the honor, I know that is not the reason they choose to give their time. Honor Roll members were nominated by organizations and fellow community members who recognized the difference each of these volunteers makes.

I urge everyone to volunteer. The impact you can make is immediate and immeasurable. Whether you are in high school or approaching retirement, I implore everyone to give, advocate, and volunteer on behalf of families in Southeast Michigan.

Dr. Darienne Hudson
President and CEO of United Way for Southeastern Michigan.