About Community Service

Volunteering: Good for Them, Good For You

David Stone
Volunteers welcomed visitors to FDR Four Freedoms Park
Volunteers welcomed visitors to FDR Four Freedoms Park
Photo Credit: Four Freedoms Conservancy

As volunteers, we get chances to pitch in, to help others, animals, the environment and much more. We're asked to contribute time and energy, but we're also given a priceless opportunity to do something that benefits ourselves. That's right. Volunteering serves some of our own best interests.

If you're like most volunteers, you commit your attention to things that are meaningful to you.

Louella Streitz is a good example. Recently honored for her efforts by State Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, Streitz founded and continues to organize DASH because she cares about giving seniors and other homebound people access to richer lives, bringing them meals, companionship and assistance with everyday chores.

Almost any day, you can find Rossana Ceruzzi riding her bicycle on Roosevelt Island, carrying supplies as she goes from place to place, ministering to wildlife she learned to love while growing up in an animal loving family in Italy. In 2016, she formed a foundation. Wildlife Freedom's mission is "to help protect and conserve wildlife and other animals in New York City."

As with many volunteers that keep a community like Roosevelt Island stitched together in webs of caring, Streitz and Ceruzzi feel best when helping, no personal gain intended.

But that's not the complete picture.

Can You Do Good, But Also Do Well?

When we moved to Roosevelt Island in 1991, the place was dog-starved. The community was so anti-dog, if you brought a one over for a walk along the seawall, you were likely to be scolded for violating the dog ban. You weren't really, but that's another matter.

As a counterbalance, my wife and I decided to volunteer for walking dogs at the Humane Society shelter on 59th Street.

Like today, you can see their building as you glide over on the Tram. One floor was filled with dogs eager to get outside for all the predictable reasons, and the Society had nowhere near enough staff for the task. On the floor below, cats waited to be welcomed into "forever homes." They watched us parade downstairs with dogs of all kinds on our way outdoors.

A quarter of a century has passed, but I remember several of those dogs well. There was the big female whose favorite thing was to find the nearest mud puddle and stand, maybe sit, in it, teaching anyone will to learn about how simple joy can be.

My favorite dog, a scrappy mutt named Poppy, was so anxious he grated everyone's nerves by barking constantly. When I took him for a stroll, he kept edging toward the street. I guided him back repeatedly until a more experienced volunteer explained that my pal had an exceptional skill. Poppy was curb trained and trying to answer the call of nature without inconveniencing pedestrians.

Vividly, I remember turning a corner and seeing a longhaired dachshund standing with his front feet on my wife's knee as she knelt to pet him. If not for Roosevelt Island's ill-advised restrictions, that dazzling beauty as well as his twin in the shelter with him would soon have gone home with us.

I mention all this to make a point that, although we were motivated to help the dogs, we gained as much as they did in the exchange. Few things I've done in my life match the joy I felt in having those wonderful canines all to myself for walks around the block and finding chances to play when space was available.

We had fun while learning about dogs, how their personalities were shaped and the perilous world of abandoned pets. It led us to multiple adoptions in the years that followed and to donate money and art for auction to shelters and rescue operations all around the U.S.

There's so much pleasure in it, it's impossible to think of volunteering as being a genuine sacrifice.

With organizations everywhere needing volunteers to help meet their missions, anyone can find ways to contribute something personally meaningful, to do good while also doing well. Here are some examples.

Benefits of Volunteering

  • You can learn a new skill, anything from bookkeeping to horticulture to grooming.
  • Meet people. There is no better way to find likeminded friends than in working alongside them as volunteers. 
  • Gain confidence in yourself by mastering unique challenges.
  • Networking in service can lead to job and social opportunities otherwise unknown to you.
  • Enjoy the subtle pleasures of being an active member of a community.
  • Make a difference. Don't we all want to do that?
  • Expand your understanding and compassion through service.

Benefits can be great when you step outside the grind and offer your skills, compassion and energy where they are badly needed. Goodness spreads in all directions at once.

Volunteer Opportunities on Roosevelt Island

So, what are you waiting for? Get out there and reap of the benefits of doing for others.

For Cat Lovers