Skip to content →

Add Joy to Your Life: Say “Yes” to Giving

A lifetime of volunteering

Connie Brown has been volunteering for the majority of her life. When she was a young girl growing up near Cleveland, she would shovel snow to clear driveways for neighbors who weren’t able to do it for themselves.  “I just have a heart for people,” she says. “I enjoy serving others. No one made me do it; I just enjoyed doing it.” She adds, “That was a long time ago. I’m 72.”

Connie Brown, top center, volunteers regularly with the Samaritan Center, a “grace-driven nonprofit organization with a mission to serve the hurting and hungry of Northwest Arkansas with dignity and compassion on a regular basis.”

You can see Connie’s love of volunteering in the impacts she logs on GivePulse. Between June and August of 2019, she recorded over 400 volunteer hours with four different organizations — and that’s just a scratch on the surface of her volunteer efforts. “I’ve had and enjoyed a lifetime of volunteering,” she says.

Unique giving culture

Her recent volunteer efforts have been in Northwest Arkansas, where she says there is a unique giving culture.“We have Walmart, we have other large businesses; we have a diverse community, a diverse population, and everybody gets along,” she says. “It’s very unique I think — I came from an area where that was not the case, it was a very divisive community over race and ethnicity. But here everybody gets along, everybody helps each other — it feels like we all partner to help those who need help.” 

When she first moved to Northwest Arkansas eleven years ago, Connie says, “I was looking for volunteer opportunities, places where I fit in, where I liked their mission. I just kind of slowly tried different places out, and saw that I fit, and that I liked their mission and I liked making a difference with them.” 

“You end up having that community of new friends when you volunteer… When you get acquainted with them, they become your friends, your family.”

For Connie, these organizations offered a community of like-minded individuals. “Many of the volunteers are long-term volunteers who have volunteered faithfully at the same place for 35 years — here they are week after week, day after day. To me, it’s amazing. It just shows the commitment of people in our community to organizations that make a difference and that help others in our community that need our help.” For example, Connie recalls fellow volunteer Jan from Helping Hands, who worked alongside her on Wednesdays until she moved away last year. Connie says, “When I’m working alongside Jan, who is 100 years old, I’m thinking ‘Oh my gosh, when I grow up I want to be like Jan!’” 

By returning to these same organizations on a regular basis, Connie says, “you end up having that community of new friends when you volunteer… When you get acquainted with them, they become your friends, your family; you get so much more than you give… I enjoy the volunteers that I meet; I enjoy serving the guests we have for lunch at the Samaritan Center, or the VA hospital, or the people who come to the food pantry at Helping Hands.”

Connie Brown serves pie at the Samaritan Center.

A heart for people

Connie believes that volunteering is a crucial part of life. “For the people who don’t volunteer at all, they’re just missing out on so many opportunities. It takes a village of all of us, and I’m just so glad to be a part of that village.” She adds, “Giving to others will never lessen what you have — it increases what you have exponentially. You give and you get so much more back.” 

“Giving to others will never lessen what you have — it increases what you have exponentially. You give and you get so much more back.”

The key tenet of volunteering, she says, is to have a heart for people. “You need a heart for people. You don’t need to be judgmental. You just need to have a heart for people and a willingness to serve.” 

For those who have not volunteered much before and are looking to start, Connie has this advice: “Look at areas you’re interested in. Try a place… Just try it. If you don’t like it, move on. You don’t have to be on the frontline of anything that’s done, you can be in a supporting role. I’m not the one leading the band; I’m a band member. But to just simply try it, and take that risk. You might like it, you might not like it. Ten to one, you will find a place where you really fit, where you really support their mission of what they’re doing, and where you found a new place to make a difference.”

A new place

Discovering something new about your community is another critical benefit of volunteering. Through volunteering, “you get opportunities to be with people you would not ordinarily be with — face to face with a homeless person, face to face with childhood hunger. When you’re serving those children lunch, and they’re eating and eating and eating.You get to see a side of what’s going on in your community that you may not in your own circle get exposed to… There’s people that kind of stand out, who you meet, and they make their mark on you just like you make your mark on them.”

“You get to see a side of what’s going on in your community that you may not in your own circle get exposed to.”

Two years ago, when Altrusa International celebrated their one hundred year anniversary, Connie took this idea of trying new things to another level. Altrusa International, a nonprofit focused on children’s literacy, asked their volunteers around the globe to volunteer one hundred hours that year. Connie recalls, “I thought, ‘Well, I do that in a month, what would be a challenge for me?’ This wasn’t required. I thought, ‘I’m gonna try 100 new places to volunteer.’ Now that was a challenge! It was something worthy of celebrating Altrusa International’s 100th birthday.”

This photo was posted on Altrusa International of Bentonville/Bella Vista AR’s Facebook page, which Connie maintains. Gay Kiker, President of Altrusa International of Bentonville/Bella Vista AR, describes Connie as a blessing to the organization.

In this personal challenge, Connie says, “I did all kinds of things — I did things I was interested in, things I had never done before, and it was just really eye opening and challenging, and a lot of fun.” In one of her new adventures, Connie volunteered for Trifest MS, a weekend long triathlon event that encourages participation for adults and children with disabilities. Connie was an encourager on the bike course: “I would holler at each one and high five.” Connie says that at first she wasn’t sure about the fit of this, thinking, “A bike course? Me?” She loved the experience and says it reminded her that “you just have to be open to new opportunities, and be willing to say ‘Yes.’ ‘Can I help serve 2000 hot dogs in an hour?’ ‘Yes!’”  

When you commit to stepping out of your comfort zone, Connie says, “You get to see what other organizations are doing, you get to be a small part of it.” She adds, “That was a really fun different experience for me. It was amazing when I was done. I was thinking, look at all the things I’ve done! Look at all the places I’ve done in NWA! Look at all the things that I’ve learned. It was a cool experience.”

Looking forward

Connie is passing this love of volunteering on to her grandkids. Her granddaughter has been volunteering alongside her in the food pantry at Helping Hands since she was four years old. “She couldn’t reach the tables,” she recalls, “but she was willing, and we worked side by side. I flipped over a plastic container that she could stand on. We would fill the bags with the staples that each family got, we would get the shopping carts out of the parking lot, we would recycle the cardboard and select the bread. I can vividly remember the first day we took her — when we came home, her mama asked, ‘Did she enjoy it?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you wanna go back?’ ‘Oh yes — they need me.’ She felt needed, she felt wanted.” 

Connie herself has no intentions of stopping anytime soon. “I hope the day I die I’m volunteering somewhere.”

We highlight partners and volunteers in this “Why I Give” blog series to showcase why they are passionate about their work and ultimately inspire others to be passionate as well.

Published in Giving