Offering to make a difference
Volunteering is gift to recipient and giver
Nice is a word often heard when referring to citizens of Minnesota. The kind-hearted people who make up our state are known for their good will and generosity — and this generosity is often a gift of their time.
In fact, the Twin Cities ranks top in the nation for volunteering rates, according to a study released last July by the Corporation for National and Community Service. The report found that an average of 40.5 percent of people in the Twin Cities metro area volunteered annually in the three-year period between 2004 and 2006, a rate that was at the top among the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas.
While people volunteer their time in many arenas, “religious” was the leading category for volunteering in 36 of the 50 metropolitan areas listed in the survey. Among these cities were Minneapolis and St. Paul, which had 36 percent of volunteering listed as “religious.” In the other 14 cities listed in the survey, religious volunteering came second only to educational or youth-service volunteering.
This giving of our time is an important part of Christian spiritual development. Shelley Cunningham, a pastor at Christ the King Lutheran in New Brighton, Minnesota, says time spent serving others helps shape who we are as people of faith. “It connects Christ’s call for us to love and serve our neighbor with our own sense of living out our faith, especially if we see it as part of our offering to God,” she says.
An active volunteer for many organizations including his home congregation Mount Calvary Lutheran in Excelsior, Minnesota, and at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Robert Torkelson of Excelsior says he volunteers because “as a Christian, I believe we should continue to grow spiritually and for me volunteering lifts up my faith in so many ways. I become a more caring individual.”
Congregations and volunteer organizations alike benefit from the caring individuals like Torkelson. One such group is Camp Noah, a program of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota. The organization works to recruit and train volunteer teams from congregations that are interested in working with children who have been impacted by disaster.
Camp Noah started in 1997 as a response within the state of Minnesota to help children impacted by disaster. Now a national program, Camp Noah relies strongly on volunteer teams to implement locations all over the country. In 2007, Camp Noah had 52 camps nationwide and worked with 1,020 volunteers.
“These volunteers seem to have a real love for children and youth and a desire to give back to others,” says Kara VerHage, program manager for disaster services and Camp Noah. “I would assume they keep coming back because they see how their time and effort can impact the lives of the kids they work with — and consequently changes their own life for the better.”
Torkelson has felt his volunteering efforts change his life for the better. “I choose to volunteer because I believe we all should do something significant with the second half of our lives,” he says. “Secondly, the psychological income from volunteering to make a difference in an organization is so great.”
The work of volunteers is part of what makes the Twin Cities metro area a great place to live. While Torkelson and his wife Ardelle spent much of their adult lives in Detroit, they chose to move back to Minnesota, where they both grew up, to spend their retirement years. He says, “My wife and I find the Twin Cities a great place to live with all the cultural activities, many of which are great because of volunteers.”