Last week was National Volunteer Week, when we celebrated those who donate their time and energy to causes that make life on this big ol’ world better. And while there seems to be a holiday for almost everything these days (hope you properly celebrated “Houseplant Appreciation Day” on January 10 this year…) National Volunteer Week is an important reminder of one of the oldest and most pervasive aspects of American culture.
Did you know?
— Many scholars credit the difficulties of colonial life for giving Americans our spirit for helping one another.
— Local fire stations were one of the first established volunteer organizations in the United States. Many communities still use volunteer firefighters today.
— 1 in 4 Americans – that’s almost 63 million people – volunteered their time last year.
— Volunteers in the United States give an average of 8 billion hours of service a year.
Volunteering is close to Aspect Foundation’s heart. Or, more accurately, volunteering is our heart. Hundreds of host families volunteer their homes, energy and care for exchange students every year. Exchange students have the chance to encounter many parts of the “American experience,” but perhaps the most important (apple pie coming in at a close second) is the generosity of the families they now call home.
But host families aren’t the only ones! Exchange students repeatedly join in the fun. Some take great initiative during their exchange year to give back to the community (click here for a wonderful example). Youth Service America provides an opportunity every year for young people around the world to come together and contribute their energy and ideas during Global Youth Service Day (this year’s GYSD was held April 11-13).
Aspect students around the country came together to give back to their host communities in astounding ways.
— Students in Minnesota put together bags of supplies for their local Head Start preschool students, including snacks and learning activities
— A student in Wisconsin helped serve lunch at a local shelter
— A large group in Texas came together to assemble and donate bags of activities and supplies to teenaged patients at a Dallas Children’s Hospital
— Colorado students collected gifts and items for Operation Christmas Child
— Students in Washington will bring food to a potluck and food bank later this week
These young people affirm that cultural exchange is not simply discovering new food or new routines. It is a flow of energy, an active open-heartedness, that brings the world closer together, one idea, one volunteer at a time.