Charity is defined by giving money to an organization that helps those in need. And it’s true, money does help. Our amazing network of nonprofits within our nation depend on and use those funds to buy what is needed to keep their good work going. But I’m here to argue that there is more value in giving your time and talent.
I started off young with learning how to tithe my allowance. I started working and earning my own money at the age of 15 and found myself with more opportunity to give back. By my twenties, my charitable donations were in my top three expenses: 1) Rent, 2) Food, 3) Giving. This is my story of how that drastically changed as I grew into adulthood and how I’ve worked to make peace with not being able to give money any more. This is how I learned that value is not defined by money.
When Money is Tight
It wasn’t long into my twenties that money started to get tight. Meaning the majority of what was coming in was going out for housing, food, clothes, gas for my commute, the essentials. I kept a few of my monthly charitable gifts going, but knew that I had to be mindful with my money so that I would be able to support myself in an emergency. At that age I had time. Lots of free time. I started volunteering at my local Humane Society and it was my first experience with what were hurdles for me to giving my time.
I had plenty of time, but going into an unknown situation was very intimidating. Even after my new volunteer training, I felt like an impostor every time I came in to walk the dogs or play with the cats. I thought, “is this really what they need me to do? Am I doing the right thing?”
Regardless of my self doubts, I found the value in me giving my time. It meant something to just show up and do something that let those that worked there know I cared. Volunteering also helped me during a very dark time in my life when my first marriage was falling apart. It gave me something that was mine. A gift that only I could give — my time and talent.
My time volunteering with the Humane Society stopped after I adopted the second cat.
The Next Chapter of Life
I moved to New York with my now husband when I was 29. It was quite the adventure and definitely a story for another day. I dove full on into a passion career. My free time went away, but I was still helping people change their lives for good and that felt right. I went back to my giving to my favorite charities monthly and put all my time and talent into work.
Then I had a baby.
All of a sudden my time was divided into so many tasks. It felt like every second there were multiple things I could or should be doing. And money. Well, if I thought the cost of living was squeezing our wallet before children, there wasn’t even a need for a wallet after having children. It quickly became hand to mouth to keep things afloat.
After moving to Northern Colorado and adding to our family with baby number two, all of my charity donations had to stop. I was no longer bringing in an income because the expense of working with children was more than any income I could earn. I found myself looking for every way to save. From the grocery budget to wearing underwear that was older than my kids.
I started to feel less than. That the younger me made more of a charitable contribution to society than this me and that made me less valuable. Now we all know that was a lie. What I really needed was to find community. And I’m so glad that I started that search with how I could give in ways other than money.
The Call to Volunteer
I found Stork Support of Northern Colorado because a friend needed a high chair. She told me how amazing this organization was and that she was gifted a high chair just when she needed it. So, I found them on Facebook and I started following what the one woman behind it all was doing and fell in love.
I started volunteering at the Family Resource Fairs and Maternity Resource Fairs hosted by partner organization Homeward Alliance. I would gather needed donations from the community and show up to sort, organize, do whatever I could to help the families we were serving feel seen and valued. Sometimes it was as simple as a smile and “hello.” I found my isolation as a mother lessening the more of my time and energy I gave. And sure enough, studies show that volunteering can improve your mental and physical health.
In August 2019 I volunteered at a Maternity Resource Fair that changed my life. I had an encounter with a pregnant woman looking for clothes for her to wear at work. She was a teacher. She needed something comfortable, but also professional. I held up one of my old dresses. One that I had worked in through my first pregnancy and knew it just might be the perfect fit. It was. And I’ll never forget her face. All my years of giving, this was the most meaningful charitable gift I ever made.
You Must Practice Receiving
In September 2019 I found out that I was expecting unexpectedly. I worried, but I didn’t worry one bit that I had just given all my maternity and baby gear away just the month before. I had peace in my heart that you get what you give. And this started my journey of learning how to practice receiving in order to give and give better.
I became a client of Stork Support. All my maternity clothes, baby clothes and gear was gifted from friends, family and my second family — Stork Support.
And then at the end of 2020 it became my turn to practice giving when the founder informed me that she would need to close the organization.
You Must Practice Giving
Fast forward through the most challenging months of 2021, now I am the Executive Director of Stork Support. With three small children I still don’t have free time, but I take every pocket of time I can find and turn it into time spent serving those most vulnerable in our community. I may have a business background, but I still don’t know what I’m doing most days. However, I see my skills growing every day. Running a nonprofit is unlike anything I’ve ever tried to do before, but I don’t ever question if it is what I am supposed to do. I am listening to my heart’s song.
So, this story isn’t to say go out and start your own nonprofit. Unless that is what you are called to do. We need all sorts of people doing all sorts of things to make our community strong, beautiful, brave and loving. And we need money too. But if you are feeling like you need charity more than you can give it, you will get more than you give when you tithe your time and talent to an organization in your community.