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Volunteering is best known as an act done for the benefit of others, but that’s not to say you can’t take away a lesson or two along the way. These lessons could shed light on the principles of doing good, the community in need, and even yourself. Whether it’s volunteering in foreign country for several months, or simply spending a few hours manning a bake sale or picking up trash, these are six things you stand to learn as a volunteer.

1. Everyone has a story

When volunteering for a community in need, you come to realize that every person has a story – a story of who they are and how they came to be where they are. While it’s important to remember that each person has their own unique narrative, it’s just as important to respect, appreciate, and take the time to understand this narrative. Whether volunteering at a nursing home, soup kitchen, or homeless shelter, acknowledging everyone’s individual circumstances and stories makes for a more complete and fulfilling volunteer experience.

2. Small changes can have a big impact

Okay, so painting a mural, pulling weeds, or donating clothes may not seem like much, but with the right mindset, these small actions can be seen to have far-reaching implications. Think of it like this: painting a mural and pulling weeds contributes to the overall beautification of a community, while donating clothes might mean keeping someone warm for the winter. As a volunteer, you come to the understanding that simple actions can have a big impact.

3. Smiles are universal

If you’ve volunteered abroad or within a community unlike your own, you’ve probably figured out that smiling is part of a universal language. A simple smile can permeate language, cultural, economic, or other barriers and can relay the message that you care. When in doubt, flash those pearly whites.

4. Gratitude

Volunteering brings with it a deep appreciation of all that you have in life and helping those in need is a firm reminder of what really matters – like family, friends, and health. It’s not uncommon for volunteers to see their own lives in a different light, perhaps taking notice of the small things or moments that bring them joy.

5. Volunteering is a learning experience

As a volunteer, you never stop learning. Developing new skills, discovering new passions, gaining new insights about yourself and the world around you – volunteering covers it all. Volunteering can mean learning about different communities, organizations, and fields, as well as learning more about yourself.

6. Once a volunteer, always a volunteer

Putting aside the fact that doing good is scientifically proven to lead to more good deeds, volunteering is an experience that stays with you forever. The fulfillment that comes with helping another human being, the satisfaction from knowing you’ve made a difference, and the good old fun factor, are just a few reasons once is never enough.

This article was originally published on Goodnet and appears here with permission.

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