The announcement of the 2021 Outstanding Volunteer Leader of the Year Award came at the end of the National Psoriasis Foundation’s virtual October Community Conference. I felt honored to be one of the nine finalists and thought that any of the other nominees would be deserving of this honor.
To my great surprise, I heard my name announced as the winner and saw my picture flash on the screen. My wife, Lori, gave me a hug, while those at the conference messaged me their congratulations.
Volunteering is a big part of who I am. Over the years, I’ve given my time and energy to local food banks, churches, schools, and youth sports teams, and as a church minister I recruited and supported volunteers. I’ve volunteered with the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) for years, hoping to improve the lives of those impacted by psoriatic disease.
A fellow NPF volunteer at the conference rightly noted that we don’t do what we do for the recognition; we do it to help others. Still, I’ve personally experienced many benefits from volunteering that I hope encourage you to volunteer as well.
Here are five ways volunteering has made my life better — plus one pitfall to watch out for.
Volunteering Helps You Meet Others With Similar Values
One great benefit of volunteering is meeting people who care about the same causes you do, with similar values. My first advocacy event with the NPF introduced me to a community of people from diverse backgrounds, all united by a desire to help the psoriatic disease community.
One experience that stands out was in April 2015, when I drove 30 minutes to the California State Capitol in Sacramento to join fellow NPF volunteers for the first annual California Lobby Day. Our mission was to talk to state legislators about bills related to access to medical care. The connections and friendships I made at the Lobby Day are ones I still greatly appreciate today.
Volunteering Takes the Focus Off Yourself
I become particularly self-focused when my psoriasis is not doing well. Self-care is important during those times, but I also find myself losing perspective and imagining worst-case scenarios.
For me, volunteering can help remedy this by redirecting my focus outward. For instance, organizing the first Sacramento Team NPF Walk came at a tough time for me. I felt challenged by my work on many fronts and my psoriasis was flaring, which was causing me to stress about potentially changing biologics.
Putting my attention on the event led me to see my difficulties in a new light. I found joy in planning the Walk path, talking to dermatology offices, and inviting participants to join the fundraiser. All this gave me more energy to address my own personal concerns.
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Volunteering Can Give You Purpose
Finding ways to make a difference through volunteering can give your life meaning and purpose.
I’m motivated by making a difference in the lives of others. Whether it’s serving a Thanksgiving meal to those who experience food insecurity or teaching a youth baseball player how to field a grounder, I want to uplift others. In the process, I find my own life is enriched.
I’ve dedicated my NPF volunteer work to areas where I feel I can have the greatest impact, such as using education to reduce the stigma that often accompanies psoriasis. Through fundraising events, I also hope to assist in bringing about better treatments and a cure, and I strive to support fellow patients in advocating for themselves and others.
Volunteering Helps You Build Skills
Volunteering can provide opportunities to develop or utilize your skill set. I’ve grown my teaching skills as a youth coach, and my social media engagement has increased as an NPF Social Ambassador. I’ve taught and trained volunteers on how to lead a meeting and mentor college students at church.
I’m a reserved and introverted person, but volunteering has also taught me a lot about boldness and assertiveness. At work I’ve cultivated skills in public speaking and leading teams, but asking legislators to support a bill that would help those in the chronic illness community felt different and even scary.
In some of those legislative meetings, I was the one who needed to give “the ask.” Over time it became more natural for me to assert myself in those situations — and, consequently, in other areas of my life.
Volunteering Helps You Contribute to the Solution
It’s easy for me to get overwhelmed by the size and needs of the psoriasis community. When I think about the more than 8 million people in the United States and 125 million worldwide living with psoriatic disease, I feel small. Instead of doing something proactive, I sometimes find myself complaining.
Volunteering provides a positive direction to channel that unproductive energy. Instead of bemoaning the problem, I can be part of the solution. Joining a patient advocacy organization like the NPF brings me together with others who are rowing in the same direction. Together, we can bring about a cure for psoriasis and improve lives.
RELATED: You — Yes, You! — Can Become a Psoriasis Patient Advocate
But Watch Out: Volunteering Can Sometimes Stretch You Too Thin
While I love to volunteer, I do find myself overcommitted from time to time. I want to do it all, but when my health warrants more attention or work is especially busy, I’ve learned when to pull back or say no.
Still, there are so many ways to contribute to the betterment of others through volunteering, and what compels me may be different than what excites you. If you have time and energy to offer, consider how you can get involved and experience the joy of giving to others.
Learn more about volunteering with the National Psoriasis Foundation.