“It feels good to be a part of the universe as it shines upon others,” Acorn’s“Family Man” columnist Michael Picarella recently noted.

Why is helping someone an action we associate with the feeling of being happy?

One explanation is that in doing so we experience “vicarious joy,” or the pleasure we get from improving another’s situation or well-being.

Holidays seem to be a time when many of us look to see how we can help others.

Actions can be as simple as putting coins in the kettle for the Salvation Army, dropping off baked goods for an elderly neighbor or driving a friend to an appointment.

Acts of kindness happen all the time between individuals, both friends and strangers. Facebook is filled with stories of one human helping another. And more often than not, the person doing the helping feels they got more out of the experience (vicarious joy) than the person they helped.

Charitable organizations are profoundly dependent on individuals who want to give back in ways that benefit others. Giving back generally comes in two forms—in financial and personal actions or in volunteering.

In the past I volunteered at a hospital and for the American Cancer Society. I was also a volunteer board member for two organizations.

Some organizations had missions I cared deeply about. Some needed my skills and I was pleased to help. And some helped me earlier in life and I wanted to give that same help to others.

Each experience involved time and effort but delivered me so much more in personal joy. It is a wonderful sensation to feel you are contributing in a way that will make a difference.

Whatever the mission of the charitable organization and no matter how big or small they are, there are more volunteer opportunities than you might imagine.

In the case of Senior Concerns, our volunteer Meals On Wheels drivers get to be a part of the lives of home bound seniors. Our Bargain Boutique and Thrift Store volunteers use their skills and talents to make money for our organization.

And the craft makers, entertainers, therapy-dog owners and garden club members who share their gifts with our Adult Day participants see the joy they bring to our seniors.

Volunteer opportunities in nonprofit organizations don’t stop with supporting the charity’s core programs.

Volunteers often staff the front desk, answer phones or help with data entry. They might serve on the board and help ensure the organization meets its goals.

There are volunteers who help with fundraising events, doing everything, whether it’s securing auction items, making centerpieces, cooking and serving a pancake breakfast or manning registration.

There are those who help get the word out about the organization by using their skills as a presenter to share the organization’s mission and effectiveness with others.

Volunteer attorneys and certified financial planners share their expertise with families in need. And volunteer groups help repair and maintain buildings and landscapes. They man booths at events or help clean and organize areas.

I’m unaware of a nonprofit that does not have a need for more volunteers.

A passionate, dedicated, skilled volunteer is one of the greatest assets a charitable organization can have. It is almost better than money in the bank.

In all honesty, a nonprofit needs both.

If you would like to help the universe shine on others, consider volunteering. Senior Concerns would welcome you with open arms, as would any nonprofit in the area.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities at Senior Concerns, contact Denise at (805) 497-0189 or denise@seniorconcerns.org.

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