The late American author and poet Maya Angelou wrote that “when we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” Every year, thousands of Delawareans put those words into action, affirming that ours is a state of neighbors. The Week of Service, which runs April 12-18, is an opportunity to highlight the contributions of our friends and neighbors who improve the lives of others and to encourage us all to support worthy causes however we can.
People volunteer in ways that are meaningful to them – mentoring children, delivering meals to seniors or serving the disabled. Others renovate dilapidated buildings, beautify our natural resources and give struggling families a path to self-sufficiency.
They are people of every age and from every walk of life, from Emalie Lawson, a student at Dover High School who started the “My Own Books,” to improve childhood literacy in Kent County, to Marilee Bradley, who at 92 is still actively raising funds for projects and awareness about the Stockley Center in Georgetown. Marilee has spent 45 years advocating for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.
In the past year, we have honored extraordinary efforts by Delaware residents to help people recover from addiction, raise awareness about Alzheimer’s, work at free tax clinics, provide free legal aid to disabled veterans and much more.
The service of Emalie, Marilee and so many others like them is making a big difference for our state and our people. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, each year in Delaware:
• 75 percent of the people help their neighbors.
• 188,000 people volunteer.
• 22 million hours of volunteer service are performed.
The cost to Delawareans if these services were not done by volunteers would be some $490 million or an extra $1,430 for every household in the state. But the benefits to those in need and to the community are not the only benefits. Volunteering gives a sense of purpose, provides opportunities for physical activity and helps people live longer, more fulfilling lives.
When my husband was first sworn in as governor, we were overwhelmed by the response we received when we declared a statewide weekend of service in lieu of the traditional inaugural ball. Thousands of friends and families and people of all ages responded by helping those in need that weekend and every year since during what has become a full week of service.
We are asking Delawareans to again donate your time and energy. Look around your community or visit volunteerdelaware.org to find ways to volunteer this week, and every week. The 2015 Week of Service also coincides with the recent launch of a new program to make the most of Delawareans’ instinctive generosity. Volunteer Delaware 50+ will help individuals age 50 and over find the best opportunities to use their skills and talents across an array of activities that support their communities. The state has partnered with dozens of not-for-profit organizations involved with education, literacy, health and wellness, the arts, protecting the environment and many other important community needs.
Volunteers in the program receive benefits including:
• Personal attention and assistance from dedicated Volunteer Delaware 50+ staff.
• Liability insurance while volunteering.
•Introduction to a broad range of volunteer opportunities to match your interests and skills with community needs – opportunities which are one-time or ongoing.
• Tracking of your service hours.
• Recognition events.
The fastest-growing population in Delaware is the senior population, with more seniors living longer and more active lives. Research shows that volunteering can have a profound impact on our health, helping to prevent Alzheimer’s, lowering instances of depression and promoting physical activity.
For those 50 and older, Volunteer Delaware 50+ will be there to provide personalized support and guidance in finding a rewarding service opportunity.
The most important measure of Delaware’s progress and quality of life is whether as many Delawareans as possible have the best chance to reach their potential. We know government, businesses, and nonprofits all play a role, but we all have responsibility to provide for each other.
To learn more about volunteering, Volunteer Delaware 50+ and the annual Week of Service opportunities, please visit www.volunteerdelaware.org. Your time, talent and experience can ensure a bright future for all of our residents. Thank you for all you do to make this a better Delaware.
Carla Markell is Delaware’s first lady. This blog post was originally published in The News Journal.