“The best thing about giving is that the reaction
is always greater than the action.”
The other night I opened a fortune cookie and found that quote. I didn't care that my fortune didn't specify an exotic vacation or added wisdom. This fortune cookie provided a nice thought about life and giving.
Those who make giving part of their lives already know that they receive as much benefit as the person or persons that are being served. In academic and behavioral science, research has shown that serving others has measurable mental and physical health benefits. For example, volunteerism boosts self-confidence and life satisfaction, both of which combat depression.1 Volunteering is good for physical health at any age.
Throughout the years Rising Star Outreach has welcomed countless volunteers and has greatly benefited from their service. These volunteers have sacrificed time and money for the opportunity to serve others. The volunteers come from many different countries and from all walks of life—individuals, couples, friends, siblings, and families—ready to roll up their sleeves and share their body muscles as well as their heart muscles to assist the ‘least among us’—those affected by leprosy.
Because of their experience volunteers want to become more deeply involved in Rising Star Outreach's programs. They return home with a commitment to further the mission of Rising Star Outreach. Sometimes they sponsor students or encourage members of their family and friends to sponsor students. Sometimes they bring their friends and families back to India to volunteer. Volunteers have raised money in a variety of ways, such as sponsoring cross-country bike rides, by selling baked goods, or hosting an event in their homes. Recently, an entire elementary school raised money for educational materials by having “Penny Wars.” The classes challenged each other to see which class could bring in the most pennies. These volunteers not only raised money for Rising Star Outreach's programs, but also spread awareness that leprosy still exists in the 21st century!
Some volunteers support our micro-grant program or the medical program. Others contribute to building programs, such as the new medical building and girls’ hostel. Others fund programs that help students learn basic life skills. It is thrilling for me when I receive a phone call from those who feel passionate about helping Rising Star Outreach's work go forward in meaningful and positive ways!
This past year Lon and Rebecca Young have been in India as the Volunteer Program Manager and Sponsorship Manager, respectively, on the campus of Rising Star Outreach. Their five children accompanied them to India, and Lon and Rebecca have seen the benefits of "doing something different" as a family. Lon shares some insights about this experience:
“In traveling to India our family has crossed many borders. But stamped passports don't tell the tale. The real journey, the one that has made this experience so trans-formative for us, has been the move outwards, the reaching beyond the borders of our family's own self-interest to what Einstein termed ever-widening "circles of compassion." As parents when we have witnessed our children gently peeling bandages off oozing sores or massaging oil into cracked skin; when we have watched them being jostled along bumpy roads in sweltering heat for the privilege of digging a latrine for a far-flung villager; when we have seen them teaching a child to read who would otherwise be begging in the streets, or leading them in choir, or teaching them piano or violin or lathering de-lousing gel into their scalp on a Sunday night—then we know it was worth it. Asking them to leave good friends and french fries, giving up a spot on the basketball team, deferring scholarships. Asking them to leave their individual islands of self-concern to become citizens of the wider world. They left old boundaries behind and widened their circles of compassion. And it was all worth it. Even for the daughter who locked herself in her room a few months ago and slid us a note under the door that said, 'COME GET ME WHEN WE'RE GOING BACK TO AMERICA!!!'
And now we are going back to America.
How much will stick? If we have come to find Jesus in the faces of the leprosy-affected, will we recognize Him back home in the face of the grimy man holding a cardboard sign, the obnoxious neighbor, the surly skateboarder loitering in the school parking lot? As the Volunteer Program Director, I've told departing volunteers that after their experiences here in India, they'll probably want to keep helping Rising Star Outreach in its mission to serve leprosy-affected communities, but that from our standpoint, we will have been just as successful if their deepened compassion finds expression by reaching out to the hungry, the homeless, the heartbroken in their own communities. And I think after nearly a year, our own family has come to understand that reaching out doesn't require traveling to some exotic place. Yes, India is the fabled land of altruists—we get to walk in the footsteps of Gandhi and Mother Teresa and the Buddha—but it really doesn't matter where we live or where we serve. Someone beautiful is always within reach, someone who needs exactly what we can share.”
As I read Lon’s words, I was transported over the miles to India and thought of the love each volunteer brings to Rising Star Outreach. I express sincere appreciation to the Young family and to the long-term coordinators: Ashley Ward, Volunteer Program Officer; Brooklyn Young, Sponsorship Program Assistant; Berlyn Slemboski, Community Outreach Coordinator; Saychelle Youngberg, Education Coordinator; Brian Youngberg, Medical Coordinator; Ashlyn Stead, Digital Media Coordinator; Caroline Kane, VPO Assistant; and Teesa Alvis, Dance Master from Promethean Spark. What an amazing group of volunteers!
At Rising Star Outreach we believe the experience of serving in India creates the opportunity to become a life-long humanitarian. Volunteers have profound experiences, and they return home with a greater ability to share their love at school, in their neighborhoods, in their communities, and in their own families, as Lon so beautifully said.
Mother Teresa once said, "You can accomplish the extraordinary in the ordinary, one day at a time with love."
Every volunteer, whether they stay in India for a few weeks or much longer, may think they leave ordinary hand prints in India, but these hand prints are extraordinary expressions of love and compassion to the hearts and souls of countless individuals.
Thank you volunteers, sponsors, and donors for contributing your time, talent, and resources to the programs at Rising Star Outreach!
If you have not yet been a volunteer and are interested in having a life-transforming experience as an individual or with your family, visit our website and click VOLUNTEER. You’ll see the program in action and the dates for each session. Come join us!
And, the next time you open a cookie and read your fortune, think of Rising Star Outreach! Your desire to become part of the vision and mission of Rising Star Outreach will improve your fortune and the fortune of those you serve.
Rising Star Outreach
 Volunteering: The happiness effect
Helping others kindles happiness, as many studies have demonstrated. When researchers at the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in a large group of American adults, they found the more people volunteered, the happier they were, according to a study in Social Science and Medicine. Compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy—a hike in happiness comparable to having an income of $75,000–$100,000 versus $20,000, say the researchers.
(Adapted with permission from Simple Changes, Big Rewards: A Practical, Easy Guide for Healthy, Happy Living, a special health report published by Harvard Health Publications.)