“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”

The expression above explains perfectly why volunteering and performing acts of hesed(loving-kindness), are so rewarding!

Do you want to feel fulfilled?

Do you want to stop obsessing about things that are out of your control?

Do you want to be purposeful?  Do you want to make a difference in the world?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, consider stepping out of your comfort zone and doing something for someone else.   Not for pay, not as a favor, not for hesed hours for school, or as part of your training or internship, and not just for family members.

Give of yourself and your time solely to contribute towards making the world a better place.

Can you carve out a few hours a week or a month, where you do a simple act of kindness for an individual you have never met before?  Volunteering is a way to make the world a kinder place AND put a smile on someone’s face who may really need it.

The tote bag I carry when I visit patients at a Brooklyn hospital is a token of gratitude from the Volunteer Department that reads: “We all smile in the same language.”    How true is that?

Sometimes our daily stresses and responsibilities intrude on our natural inclination to be kind.

My Experience as a Hospital Volunteer

When I visit patients as a volunteer Patient Advocate at a major Brooklyn hospital, I am often asked by the patients, their visitors, or family members if I work for free.   Although I explain that I am a volunteer and don’t get paid, I am grateful and very aware that the benefits I derive from my weekly three-hour shifts are priceless.

The patients give me an amazing opportunity to perform a mitzvah, get out of my own head, and not over-think my daily commitments and pressures!

Who can compute the value of ensuring an ill person has the best patient experience possible?   Or that a patient with no family or visitors enjoys the companionship and conversation that another human can offer?  The biblical sources for bikur holim, visiting the sick, are aligned with the hospital’s mission, to take care of the patient’s needs.

On Sept 6th, I achieved a milestone – 1,000 hours of hospital volunteer work.   As I signed out after my shift for the last month and viewed my life time service, I realized that I was nearing the 1,000 hours mark.  As a CPA and a numbers person, this marker was a big win for me!   For those 1,000 hours, I forgot about family conflicts or squabbles, slights from neighbors or friends, and issues with bosses and colleagues.  I was able to put aside worries about world peace, concerns about money and the state of our economy, and how I was going to prepare for Shabbat or the holidays.   For those hours, I was fully present and focused on someone else.  How awesome is that?

As a hospital volunteer, I am not privy to why a particular patient was admitted to the hospital unless he or she shares this with me.  When I visit patients and their loved ones, caregivers, and visitors, I provide them with hospital resource guides and free coffee and tea vouchers for the visitors.  I ask how their hospital experience has been, and inquire if I can help them with anything.   I advocate and troubleshoot for them, and follow up on the patient’s behalf with their nurse, doctor, or nurse technician.  I inquire why the patient’s procedure has been delayed or when their case worker or attending physician will be stopping by to discuss rehabilitation center options upon discharge or assistance in the patient’s home.

I hope I enable the men, women, and children I see to perhaps forget for five or ten minutes about their upcoming surgery, or the test results that they are waiting for, or the physical pain that they are experiencing.   Ditto for their caregivers and visitors – maybe my visit provides some peace of mind or a distraction.  Perhaps it coincides with the administration of a pain medication and the patient is waiting for it to kick in.

Providing the Human Touch

At times, I chat with someone who may have no family or friends to check up on them, or get a patient a magazine, an extra blanket, or a pillow. My supervisor once told me not to get hung up in the number of patients I visit – it’s about quality not quantity she explained.  After she said that, I really began to notice when patients need some human contact, other than their doctors or nurses.   I take my cues from the patients, introducing myself as a volunteer, showing my ID, and sharing my name and that I am not a medical professional.  I ask if this is a good time to visit and ask them how they are doing today.   I have learned to use my judgment and my coaching skills of empathy and active listening, and to be mindful and not overstep boundaries.  If a patient wants to rest, or is not in the mood to talk, or is in too much pain to have a conversation, I excuse myself.

There are times my visit only lasts a few minutes and others where I may talk to the patient and a family member for close to a half an hour.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to visit a 38-year-old man.   When I got to his room, his father was keeping him company.   We chatted for over 20 minutes about neighborhoods in Brooklyn and his job.  He had figured out that I was Jewish and shared his religious background with me.  We had established a solid connection and enjoyed our conversation.   I wondered later – who had benefited more from the visit, this young man or me?

Last week, an elderly woman was feeling cold, and she was also anxious as to why she hadn’t received her pre-procedure beverage to drink. I followed up with her nurse, got her some warmer gowns to wear, and found out that her preparatory beverage was on its way.   The patient was so grateful that she blessed me and told me she loved me.   Does feeling purposeful and fulfilled get any better than that?

When a patient or family member asks me how he or she can sign up to volunteer at the hospital, I know that I have performed something of value.

How You Can Start to Volunteer

So how do you start?  How do you choose a task or place where you can volunteer and make a difference?  Hospitals and nursing homes are always looking for volunteers – just check out their websites and apply!

If hospitals make you squeamish, there are lots of other volunteer opportunities available.

You can visit a senior citizen in their home once a week and even walk their dog for them, be a community educator or mentor in a high school, deliver Meals on Wheels for home-bound people, or volunteer for a fund-raising event.  You can even apply to get your dog certified as a therapy dog and take your dog to visit patients in hospitals or children in schools.

It’s never too early to teach your children how to flex their kindness muscles. There are many volunteer programs for children and teens. For example, you can help collect donated groceries for a food pantry, or school supplies, winter coats, Hanukah gifts, or Purim costumes, for less fortunate children. You can join in singing songs for the hagim to the elderly in a retirement community, or raise a service dog for an organization such as Guide Dogs for the Blind, and much more.

Sephardic Bikur Holim (SBH) is always looking for volunteers who can use their skills, talents, and compassion to help others.

Other Benefits

In addition to making a difference and performing hesed, volunteering has other added benefits.  Volunteering can help you acquire or improve your technical, interpersonal communication, and leadership skills.  It can also give you the opportunity to confirm a certain career choice.  Many high school and college students, or individuals who want to change careers, volunteer for this reason.

Volunteering is also a wonderful way to meet likeminded people.   For retirees or people who live alone, volunteering provides purpose and meaning to life, and can help fight depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

I will leave you with the wise words of Anne Frank, A”H, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Her specialties include life, career, and dating coaching.  Ellen can be contacted at ellen@lifecoachellen.com(www.lifecoachellen.com).