Chuck Todd / NBC News
Several years ago, thanks to encouragement from my boss at the time, I started volunteering and serving dinner at Samaritan Inns in Washington, D.C., a place where homeless men and women struggling with addiction go to get their lives back on track. Soon after my first volunteer experience I was part of an effort to bring young staffers with me. And sometimes those folks were nervous, because it’s often the first time they’ve been exposed to inner-city realities. But by the end of a meal, all those barriers are down and everybody’s hugging each other.
One moment in particular has stuck since, just as we were about to leave, one of the residents stopped a group of us and said, “I just want to pray for you and thank you.” It was one of those moments when you realize that being there means so much more than simple writing a check. His words felt like a blessing.
It may be a cliché, but anytime I’ve been able to volunteer at Sam’s Inn, I always walk away thinking, “I need to do that again.” It always puts me in a better mood. To me, spending time actually interacting with people in need is so much more valuable than a monetary donation. You can actually feel their appreciation. These are people who’ve been written off. They think nobody really gives a damn about them. By spending just a little time with them, you wipe away a stereotype or two. You realize that sometimes the difference between somebody picking the right path in life vs. the wrong path is just feeling like somebody cares, that you aren’t in it alone. It can matter so much. And it can make your own problems at work or at home seem small and easily manageable.
Make A Difference Day couldn’t come at a better time this year. By Saturday, Oct. 27, you’ll no doubt be exhausted by the presidential campaign dividing the country. You’ll have had enough of those nasty attack ads. The best break you can take is to go do something for your community. Nothing is a greater stress reliever. I know I’m not doing it enough this year and plan to make it a priority myself. Maybe a Democrat and a Republican will clean up a yard together or stand next to one another at a soup kitchen.
More important, I hope that you get hooked on community service that day. I’d love that one day a year to become once a month, or once a week. That would really make a difference.