By Robert A. Wilkins, CEO and President, YMCA of the East Bay

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” Mohandas K. Gandhi said.  As he was with so many things, Gandhi was right.  Volunteering makes a difference, not only in someone else’s life, but also in your own.

I should know.  My organization—The YMCA of the East Bay—has helped a lot of people find themselves over the years.  Without volunteers, we could not exist.  Nor could countless other nonprofits.

Last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 64.5 million people volunteered through, or for, an organization at least once.  If you are one of those 64.5 million, you can, if you wish, stop reading now.  You already made a difference. But if you are one of the 73 percent of the population who didn’t volunteer to help a community group, a church, a nonprofit, a school or other organization at least once last year, you need to read on and find yourself.

Annette Miller found herself.  She’s making a difference.  A West Oakland parent of four, Annette is one of the 64.5 million who volunteered more than once. In addition to being a parent leader at McClymonds High School, where she and her children went to high school, she also volunteers to help other parents and kids in West Oakland and participates in workshops developed by a local non profit, Attitudinal Healing Connection, for the West Oakland Parents Action Network and gives time to Great Oakland Public Schools, another local nonprofit committed to improving student learning and achievement. Annette is one of 300 or so volunteers who collectively gave thousands of hours of service to GO Public Schools last year. The organization may have a tiny budget, but it has a huge role to play, thanks to volunteers like Annette.

131016_YMCA_0411[1]Jay Gilson, a CPA and co-owner of Bay Area-based RINA Accountancy, is a volunteer board member of the Regional Parks Foundation, which makes the East Bay Regional Park District’s parks, trails, programs and services available to the area’s underserved population.  An avid outdoorsman and cyclist, Jay’s motivation for volunteering was simply that he and his family enjoyed weekends walking and riding the trails.  He wanted to make sure others could enjoy the same feeling.

We need more people like Annette and Jay to make a difference, to find themselves by losing themselves in the service of others.  That’s why the Y honored Annette and Jay and more than two dozen other volunteers at our first ever “YOU ARE THE DIFFERENCE” awards ceremony.  We’re recognizing not only our own Y volunteers, but people like Annette and Jay, who choose to donate some of their free time to other nonprofits in the Bay Area.

Why?  Because when someone volunteers, we all benefit.  Volunteering strengthens our entire community. It really does make a difference.  Lose yourself and you’ll find yourself making a difference too.

Robert A. Wilkins has been CEO and President of the YMCA of the East Bay since 1997. He is an ordained minister and currently serves as an Associate Minister at Allen Temple Baptist Church and educator in contemporary religion and biblical literature. 

Editor’s Note: This piece reflects an individual opinion and is not a reported story from Oakland Local. Oakland Local invites community residents to share their views about events and issues in Oakland. See our guidelines.

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