The Volunteers Seem to Thrive

My husband and I were working in the area around our front patio this weekend. Over the last year, we changed out some of the plants and added some new ones. There’s a lovely new agave that we’ve planted and artfully swirled around it, a flowering vine has grown. I mentioned the vine to him, impressed that it had grown on it own. “We didn’t even plant this yellow microdot.”  His comment back, “yeah, the volunteers always seem to thrive.”

In surveying our yard, I quickly decide this is a truth. Some of the things I’ve purchased at nurseries didn’t make it but many of the plants that were taken as cuttings from others or that have come up on their own – aka volunteered, are thriving.


Sure, the word choice makes it all too obvious but I believe in synchronicity and isn’t there a clever lesson tucked inside this garden observation? It’s Tuesday night and my fourteen year old walks in with a friend after having spent the last two hours reading stories to kids at the homeless shelter. His face is folded in a big grin as he describes his evening and the boy that he spent his time with. He had fun.

I’ve noticed a similar effect when I’ve taken a group of employees out for a volunteer activity. In researching this topic, I learn that it goes deeper than fun. The Center for Services Marketing call it the Service – Profit chain and it goes like this; if a volunteer experience is crafted in a manner that engages employees and makes them feel more satisfied about their workplace, then they’re likely treating the customers better which results in higher customer satisfaction and is a contributor to loyalty. Further, JD Power & Associates tell us that customers who have observed the employees of a particular company doing volunteer work are likely to be more satisfied customers.

So, it’s not just the volunteers that seem to thrive.

Where can you engage your family, friends, co-workers or employees in a local volunteer project?

Winter Vegetable Skillet
Contrived from the contents of our CSA
Serves four to six
  • 1 Tsp olive oil
  • 1 cup broth
  • 1 large leek, white and light green part diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 can of black beans rinsed (use any leftover beans)
  • 1 bunch of fresh spinach, sliced in narrow ribbons
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • black pepper
  • a pinch of cumin
  • 1 lb of ground turkey (optional or added to portion for meat eaters)
  • 1 splash hot sauce (optional)
Heat olive oil in a large saute pan. Add leeks and garlic and cook over medium heat until they soften.  Add the sweet potatoes and stir for 5 minutes. Then add turkey if you are using and crush it with the back of spoon until crumbled and cooked through. Add the broth and continue cooking until sweet potatoes are softened. Stir in spinach and black beans and cover until the spinach has wilted and the beans are heated through. Add salt and pepper and cumin and serve.  Clearly this is a dish that you can add anything to but my kids licked the pan.
Leave a comment


  1. I guess this is just a case of the natural world trying to teach us something! Volunteers of all kinds thrive:) excellent post!

    • Yes, they do thrive. There are mountains of research about how volunteering develops self esteem, better relationships, greater happiness, you name it. Thanks for reading.

  2. Tammy, thank you. I’ve been thinking of volunteering somewhere for some time now, and it’s about time I stop thinking and start doing. What a lovely message.

  3. Clever husband 🙂

  4. Kathy McNamara

     /  January 27, 2011

    I grew up with two parents that volunteered in the community. My father was one of two first volunteer EMT’s in Buckeye. He was known as The Buckeye baby man delivering 88 babies in route to a valley hospital. Mom did too many numerous to list.

    So volunteering was natural for me. This past Christmas our children (the two older ones) didn’t receive gifts as they have known but did Ger the gift of time from their dad & me. My gift is to do a volunteer project with them individually. Great post but aren’t they!

    • Kathy, there is additional research that I did not put in the post that shows that you are really contributing to the long-term happiness of your children by introducing volunteer service. It’s very encouraging. We all think we are too busy but there are so many options for doing it.

  5. Yes! Giving back you your community makes you feel more connected, that your time spent is worthwhile, that your efforts have meaning. I think it is awesome that your son volunteers with homeless children, I would like to introduce my young children to giving back as well. We all need to help each other and take care of each other. 🙂

  6. Good reminder, Tammy.

    Volunteering is good for the heart ~ as long as we enjoy what we are doing while volunteering.

    Studies show that volunteers lower their stress levels in the process of “reaching out” to others, making it a win-win for everyone . . . as long as they don’t “overdo it” by trying to be all things to all people.

    • BINGO – it has to be well contrived and meaningful and I’ve seen plenty in the “overdo it” department.

    • My AmeriCorp members were once asked to paint a playground and the long~long~long fence surrounding it.

      The paintbrushes provided to them that day were the size of toothbrushes!

      Rather than feeling empowered by their ability to help, they felt frustrated by the lack of planning.

      What a waste of volunteers.

  7. pan lickin’ good 🙂

  8. What would we do without volunteerism? In so many small but significant ways, it provides those touches that make life just a little bit easier, more pleasant, and more loving.

    You’ve done a masterful job taking your husband’s keen observation and applying it to life. May volunteer plants hereafter remind us to ask what we’ve volunteered of late. 🙂

  9. Wow. When my son is 14 I want him to be reading stories to people in homeless shelters…or some equivalent.

    I’ve said it before: your blog is having the most profound effect on my thinking. I won’t be in the sphere much longer, but thank you for rather a shining light. I need to stop the words awhile and act, I think 🙂

    • Find a project that is close and easy to start. I have some hilarious stories where I used to come home shaking my head about whether or not I was really helping them to become better people. Then, all of a sudden, it sort of clicks.

  10. The months I spent teaching English to kids in a Vietnamese orphanage were the most satisfying of my life.


    This is the program if anyone’s interested. You can choose which country to work in, Vietnam was fabulous

  12. Another wonderful post. I’ve always thought about volunteering and never quite knew just how to go about doing it.

    Thoughts on how to get started?

    • Find a shelter near you and ask to serve a meal. See if there are kids in the shelter and read to them or once a month, bake a birthday cake for anyone there that has a birthday. Take your lovely photos into an elder center and tell them about the pictures. Pack a box of food at the food bank. Find something easy and convenient to start – you don’t need a stressful experience.

  13. Jguno

     /  January 27, 2011

    It looks like many people visiting here totally agree, I can see that and feel ashamed. My experience is only that I helped students from other countries, who want to study but don’t know how, and I didn’t feel thriving. I’ll try again.
    Your post reminded me that volunteering can be helpful for ourselvess.

  14. That’s such a lovely message. Volunteering is so rewarding on both ends.

  15. That is such a true statement, volunteering in any form is always so fulfilling, and changes the way we see things, brings out the different shades of gray in between this black and white world.

  16. Help is always needed and volunteering makes us feel helpful.

    That is a lovely seasonal recipe.



  17. Naomi

     /  January 28, 2011

    Gorgeous analogy, and so true, Tammy!

  18. Volunteering does make you feel better which makes everyone feel better.

  19. Hi Tammy, Yes—the Volunteers thrive… We replant our Impatiens (annuals) each year —but there are always volunteers (Left over from the previous year) which come back up –and THRIVE…. Crazy, but true…

    I worked in a church most of my life –so I would use lots of volunteers all of the time… What wonderful people!!!

  20. There really is nothing like volunteering. I’d be the plant that came up right in the middle of the garden! Recipe looks yummy!

  21. What a wonderful post! Volunteering is good for everyone! Nothing makes you feel better than being of service to someone else. Kudos to you son for reading at a shelter!

  22. There has been fascinating studies about human motivation in the workplace on the internet; my son showed me the clips, they are by some famous scientist or other. Anyway, there is a deep feeling that is not necessarily rewarded by money as the research has proven, which makes people go beyond the call of duty to perform things. The idea is to know what it is!
    Love your veggies here, I could live on that actually, very happily!

  23. volunteering is such a great way to connect with the larger community around you. More often than not we end up in our same routines, same patterns, spending time with the same people. But when we volunteer we meet new people and have new interactions.
    This winter I’ve been helping to cook (and eat!) dinner with the men at my church’s winter shelter. It’s a win-win-win situation: we all get a good meal, we meet new people, and have great conversations.
    Volunteering doesn’t have to be a formal commitment, but can just be thought of as a way to spend time with your larger community.
    thanks for the post!

  24. Hey A-girl, you bring out a life-truth with great poignancy. Back in the old days, there was probably no such word as “Volunteer,” because everyone lived in close communities and just helped each other out. It was a way of life. Today we are secluded and isolated and busy, so we must push our selves out of the coccoons in order to remember what it’s like to see and help those in need.

    But I like the thrive message. It is part of wholeness, of being in this world with others. So if it means making time, or making it a new years resolution, or reading this blog to remember that it’s important, so be it. Thrive on, volunteers!

  25. Volunteering has been part of my life for many years. It has brought me so much in many ways… Teaching French (second official language in Rwanda) to street kids so that they could join school again. Visiting lonely elderly people in homes here in Switzerland and for the past ten years visiting and writing to prisoners. We are a small group of volunteers doing this on a weekly basis. The smiles we receive and bring back home, Tammy !

  1. Volunteers of America « Spirit Lights The Way

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