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When times are tough, people often show their best selves – giving their time, their talents, and their money to help others in need.

We know that volunteerism does good, but sometimes we forget that it feels good, too. Science shows that volunteerism helps people feel connected, feel valued and feel better.

When I was growing up, my family didn’t call it volunteerism. It was just expected that one did for others, and for the community, as much as possible.

My dad was a Navy chaplain, and my parents instilled in us the ethics of service. It wasn’t a lecture, though. They  led by example. Following in their footsteps, my brother and I joined the military, with me becoming one of the first Black women in the Air Force JAG (the Air Force’s military court system).

My work as a lawyer and an active-duty veteran was rooted in the ethics of service my parents instilled in us. But those roots are deep, throughout my life. My work as a pastor, my leadership at the YMCA, Easterseals, and now, United Way, have all been in volunteer-led organizations.

When I came to United Way last fall, as the first Black female President and CEO, I was gratified to learn that more than 1.5 million people across the world are volunteering through United Way. And much of United Way’s volunteer engagement is with its 45,000 corporate partners at the local, national and global level.

One inspiring example is the work that Kellogg has been doing, engaging its employees in skills-based volunteering. That helps employees build skills, and helps people and organizations who benefit from the work of those volunteers. Experts say companies that encourage employees to volunteer have better recruitment and retention rates.

As one of United Way’s nearly 100 Global Corporate Leader partners, Kellogg has long embraced volunteerism. Since 2015, employees have contributed 96,000 volunteer hours in their communities, company officials say. (Read more about Kellogg’s corporate social responsibility work here.)

In partnership with United Way, Kellogg recently piloted a skills-based volunteer program, matching employees who wanted to develop their skills with local nonprofits needed help. The result? A win-win! Check out what one Kellogg employee said about his experience with the local Diaper Bank here; read the reactions of a Diaper Bank leader here. Both are so heartening.

All of us have a role to play in making this world better than we found it, and business has an important role to play in making that a reality. The challenges we face are daunting – but there is no more important or exciting work.

That’s the spirit of United Way’s Day of Action on and around June 21, when hundreds of United Ways and thousands of volunteers gather around the world – in person and virtually – to make a difference in the communities in which they live and work. Here are some uplifting examples of the volunteer work that happened on last year’s Day of Action, as people started to gather again.

Day of Action is global, reflecting the fact that United Way serves 48 million people across 37 countries, to improve the health, education, and financial security of every person in every community. We work every day with communities who continue to grieve the over 6 million lives lost to COVID-19. At the same time, we are living through what I think of as a “second pandemic” – a pandemic of anxiety, division, hate, and fear.

I serve on a task force for The Generosity Commission, which looks to answer some of the key questions at the heart of the future of philanthropy. We’ve seen that people are less likely to give, volunteer, or engage in civic activity when they do not feel social connectedness or belonging in their community.

It’s no secret that we live in challenging times. Our communities are hurting, the stakes are high. From the ongoing pandemic, the war in Ukraine, to economic uncertainty and growing inequality here at home, to a hyper-polarized culture and lack of trust in our fellow human beings – it can often feel like it’s all too much.

What can we do? Each of us can make a difference by volunteering, making every day a day of action. Connect with your local United Way to find out how you can make a meaningful difference in your community.

You'll be glad you did.
 

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