Lately, I've been impressed by all the people I've come into contact with who do volunteer work or some kind of service for others without pay.
Last weekend marked the beginning of soccer season for our local AYSO region. We've been a part of this region for quite some time and I've noticed there are a handful of people on the Board of Directors who continue to serve year after year. I know the amount of time and dedication this takes and I'm always impressed by people who put in so many hours and get no monetary benefits for it.
A similar example is our local PTA board members. These parents put in limitless hours planning events, organizing fundraisers, and counting box tops, just trying to make a difference in their school.
As parents of young kids are aware, area schools have tightened up their student safety rules. As a result of this change, becoming a volunteer is not easy. A person now has to fill out paperwork, get a TB test, get a Megan's Law Background Check, as well as fingerprint clearance from the Department of Justice. This must be done at the expense of the volunteer.
People can still volunteer at school on an occasional basis without jumping through as many hoops. But if you want to put in some regular hours, you must be cleared by the district.
I am not going to get into a debate about this change. However, I will say I am impressed by the many parents who are willing to not only sacrifice their time to volunteer, but are also willing to pay for the privilege to do so.
As I was out running this morning, I passed a man who was walking his dog. I noticed he was carrying several pieces of trash in one hand. Yesterday, I noticed a different man walking along a road, collecting trash in an effort to keep our town clean. (And no, he wasn't wearing an orange jumpsuit!)
So why do so many people go to such great lengths to be of service?
This is my first year coaching a soccer team and I've realized how much fun it is. I am coaching some little ones and it is amazing to see their enthusiasm and excitement. My heart was touched when after our first practice, one of my players said, "Soccer is really fun!" For me, seeing them learn, grow, and have fun makes it all worth it.
I think that ultimately the reason we all willingly give of our time (and now money) to serve is because of love: Love for our community, love for a sport, or love for our kids. That love in our hearts spurs our efforts to do good for someone else.
It is inspiring to watch people around us do good for others. I hope that when we observe those selfless acts, we take the time to say "thank you" and let people know we appreciate their service.
And so, to all the people I've mentioned above and to everyone else who finds their own ways to serve, I say, "Thank you for all you do! You truly make a difference in your world and mine."
Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every Thursday. Comments are welcome.