As we observe Black History Month, you cannot help but think about the African Americans who paved the way for all of us, not just people of color, to thrive in America. Among the politicians, educators, philanthropists and entertainers are inventors. People like Madame C. J. Walker who created a special hair-growing lotion, Marie Van Brittan Brown who invented the first home security system, or Lonnie G. Johnson, a NASA astrophysicist. Johnson not only worked on the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Cassini mission to Saturn, but he also created the ‘Super Soaker’ water gun.
The list of African-American innovators is long and impressive. Some names you may not see on that list are the names of the countless of volunteers who give of their time to take care of their communities and residents. A study by The Corporation for National & Community Services revealed one in four Americans volunteer. The same study showed two out of three Americans help their neighbors. Charlotte Kelly Bryant, 80+, from Houston knows how important it is to give back to her community. She retired from teaching in 2002, but she continues to serve our public by volunteering full time with her church, community fundraisers and the Blue Triangle Multi-Cultural Association, once known as the Blue Triangle branch of the YWCA. That facility, which sits in Houston’s Third Ward, was a place where women and girls of color could come together to learn.
“I volunteer because my passion to serve is greater than anything else,” said the former DeBakey High School for Health Professions teacher. “God has given me good health and the ability to give back.” Volunteering may continue to enrich Bryant because studies show that giving of your time is good for your health. In fact, the latest studies show active volunteers who are 55 and older experience declines in anxiety and depression, loneliness and isolation. Studies also show that volunteers who devote about 100 hours or more every year to volunteer activities are the most likely to experience health benefits. Some may read about Ms. Bryant’s job as a volunteer and say they do not volunteer because they have nothing to give, but that could not be further from the truth.
Everyone’s experiences and talents can create meaningful changes in their communities. So next time you feel like you have nothing to do, why not share your skills and your passion with others through volunteering. It will give your health a boost, as studies have shown. Volunteering will also give you a jolt of what some refer to a “giver’s high.” The clear payoff is the social good you have done, said Bryant. “It’s not a glitzy job, but it makes you feel great knowing you have made a difference in the lives of so many people,” said Bryant. Bryant, like those who have come before her, is a true innovator. She is not an inventor, politician or famous, but she is revered by those she has served and those she continues to serve.
So why not join her in this quest to make a difference in the lives of those in your community. Chances are you will not regret it. AARP is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that offers many volunteer opportunities for people of all ages.