Volunteerism – the unexpected gifts of giving

A commentary by James Browne, Volunteer, Bonneville Lock and Dam


James Browne, Volunteer, Bonneville Lock and Dam (Corps of Engineers photo)

[Corps volunteer James Browne staffs the book store and information desk at the Bonneville Fish Viewing Building on the Washington shore side at Bonneville Lock and Dam.  He has volunteered every summer at Bonneville for nine years.]

At its very essence, volunteering is contributing one’s talents, skills and worth to other human beings – unselfishly and without seeking reward. I consider volunteering my opportunity to give back to the people who supported me and my family while I was in school and building my career and life.

However, I’ve also experienced unexpected personal benefits as a result of volunteering.

As a volunteer I’ve discovered that I can do all kinds of things I never thought possible, which benefits not only the organization I’m serving, but also myself.  Volunteering makes me feel good.  Keeping healthy can be a challenge but volunteering helps me stay fit.

Volunteering has led me to new perspectives on life and to a whole new world. It’s an opportunity to learn new things and to stimulate my mind, another essential element in life.

I am passionate about volunteering because I consider it a privilege that someone thinks I have what it takes to be a volunteer – to be given the opportunity to be useful. [For retirees, this is important as it deters negative thoughts and feelings of worthlessness that creep into our minds as we age.]

My passion for volunteering began when I attended my first escapade, a RV Club Rally in Fresno, Calif. I immediately wanted to find out how such a large event was organized, so professionally, in just 10 days – by a bunch of volunteers who then disbanded and disappeared. I was so enthralled by the professionalism of the event that I signed on as a volunteer.

As a retiree for the past 25 years with some 20,000 hours of volunteer work under my belt I prefer to work as part of a volunteer team, rather than individually. This has opened the door for me to meet people from many walks of life – many of whom share common volunteer interests.

I began volunteering at the Bonneville Lock and Dam in 2005. I work with a well-organized staff who respect and value their volunteers – and who work with us to solve problems or overcome shortcomings. Above all, they encourage FUN – while working in the dam’s visitor center and bookstore or elsewhere on the project.

A CRYPTOQUOTE puzzle I recently worked sums it up for me, “Volunteers are unpaid not because they are worthless – but because they are priceless.” My volunteer experiences at Bonneville Dam have truly been priceless.