On May 20, 2020 the lives of many residents in the Midland, Michigan area changed forever. Two dams in the area had failed and a 2000 acre lake spilled nearly 2.4 billion cubic feet of water into the neighborhoods that make up the Midland area. Luckily, there was no loss of life but certainly lives were and will be affected for years to come as people lost treasured possessions, their homes and some lost their livelihoods.
It was a tragedy that could have been prevented but I want to talk about a more positive part of the story. You see, several days after most of the water subsided, a call to action from surrounding communities went out as residents struggled to cope and deal with the devastation. To many, the task of removing water soaked carpet, drywall, clothing and all the other things one finds in the basement of a home, was nearly overwhelming. Many churches in the area, including my own, sent out a plea for help and I found myself drawn to the call. Not that many years ago, my own basement flooded and I vividly recalled my own desperate feelings and so I desired to help.
On a sunny Saturday morning, I drove the 2 hours from my house to Midland and joined nearly 1000 other volunteers who had decided to answer the call to help out total strangers. I was assigned to a group of 9 others and given an address…no name, no details…just an address and instructions to do what we could. We drove to the address and as I reported for duty, I found that the basement of our assigned home was filled with volunteers already hard at work. I found myself with nothing to do. I went back outside and was just standing in the driveway wondering what I should do and I saw a woman across the street laboring to remove a waterlogged door from her home. I rushed across the street and asked if I could help and with a shell-shocked expression, she nodded her head. I followed her into her home and spent the next 1/2 hour removing soaked and destroyed items from her home. Doors, drywall, dressers and other assorted items were deposited on the grass next to the curb awaiting disposal. When we finished, she thanked me profusely and in a quiet voice asked if it would be possible for me to help her brother who had much more damage than she. And so began a journey across homes and neighborhoods as I and several others in my group went from house to house rendering assistance and helping to make a heavy burden a little lighter and trying to make the day a little brighter.
My day was exhausting. I was dirty, tired and in pain from the constant bending over and lifting. I was only there for 6 hours and even though I was utterly spent, I was happy and I had (and still have) an immense feeling of satisfaction at helping total strangers. I spent time at 6 or 7 different homes and would “wander” off to the next home when enough people showed up to really start making a difference. I didn’t let people know I was leaving and so I never received any praise or thanks and you know what? It didn’t matter at all. There was something utterly satisfying about helping a total stranger in a time of desperate need and then slinking away when things are back under control. Why is that?
Volunteering allows you to connect to your community and make it a better place. Even helping out with the smallest tasks can make a real difference to the lives of people and families in need. Volunteering has surprising health benefits as well. It helps reduce stress, anger and anxiety. Nothing relieves stress like forgetting your own problems for a while and helping others manage theirs. It literally makes you happy. Researchers have discovered that that being helpful to others gives immense pleasure. We are hard-wired to give to others and the more we give, the happier we feel.
Volunteering also increases your self-confidence and provides a sense of purpose. You are doing good for others and the community, which provides a natural sense of accomplishment. It can also give you a sense of pride and identity. And the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals.
Finally, volunteering actually does make you healthier. Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not. Volunteering can also lessen symptoms of chronic pain and reduce the risk of heart disease.
I spent my day trying to be of service to others and what I really got out of it probably meant more to me than it did to those I served. I made new friends and left a few families in Midland with the feeling that they were not alone, that a total stranger cared about them and their situation. It was just an overall uplifting experience. This world needs more positivity and acts of kindness making a difference to both the giver and the receiver. My dad used to tell me that “if you’re not contributing the the greater good, you are taking away from it.” I think he was spot-on. I hope you will look for opportunities to serve in your own community. If you need some inspiration, go to JustServe.org and find a service opportunity in your own community. I promise- it will be well worth your time.