The power of volunteering: A matter of the heart

By Jennifer Bowman, Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs’ volunteer services coordinator

The other day, I came across a quote by Elizabeth Andrew that struck me as a wise observation: “Volunteers do not always have the time; they just have the heart.” As the volunteer services coordinator for the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, I have witnessed the consistent declaration from people offering to volunteer that they want to participate and contribute something meaningful to their local community and learn something new while lending a hand.

Photo of volunteer Donna Haney Stuart
Volunteer Donna Haney Stuart demonstrates the spinning of wool on a great wheel at the John Dickinson Plantation in Dover, Delaware.

Each year, countless people give their time, skills, material goods and financial assistance to others in need. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 30 percent of Americans volunteer in one or more organizations every year. The average amount of time given adds up to billions of dollars in labor, and countless lives impacted for the better. In working with volunteers in various communities, I have observed that much of volunteering is an altruistic act of human behavior. We have a strong need to connect with others and participate for our collective well-being. It is a long-held belief that civic engagement and involvement in local- and extended-communities to support neighbors is a crucial part of the resiliency of American democracy.

Photo of Volunteers from the Walnut Grove Coop
Volunteers from the Walnut Grove Coop for education help with autumn leaf clean-up at the Cooch’s Bridge Historic Site in Newark, Delaware.

While the act of helping for the betterment of others and community is timeless, celebrating volunteers on an international level has been recognized since the 1940s wartime, and nationally celebrated in the United States beginning in the 1970s. Since then, April has been designated as National Volunteer Month, a time when we pause to recognize the incredible generosity and dedication of volunteers across the country and world without whom many organizations and humanitarian services would cease to exist.

Volunteering isn’t just “work” that people do for an ambiguous reason; it’s work that we do because it matters in a million tiny ways that add up to something powerful. Social activist and celebrated author of “The Color Purple,” Alice Walker, once said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” Volunteering can be a powerful action and is never wasted.

Our labor has value, and more importantly, meaning. When lending a hand, people participate in activities tied to things they either directly or indirectly care about. Sometimes, people contribute money to causes they emotionally connect with and want to help, even and especially when they can’t show up to lend a hand. In addition to financial support, people give their priceless “human capital” of hard work. Giving our time and skills in the form of volunteering truly is a matter of heart. Our most precious commodity as living beings is time. How we use our time matters a great deal. Giving our time and skills to complete a multitude of critically important daily tasks that need more attention than paid labor has funding to cover is a labor of love, compassion and dedication — and it feeds the seeds of hope.

In volunteering, we may find fulfillment in helping, but we also often discover curiosity, inspiration, mental stimulation, validation and an unexpected chance to explore opportunities we would never have experienced otherwise. In short, volunteering opens doors to parts of the world and ourselves that supports learning and growth. Indeed, Winston Churchill once astutely observed, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

Every year, division staff work with dozens of individuals and teams of volunteers who are dedicated to helping to preserve Delaware’s history and cultures. Volunteers lend a hand with important tasks that range from research of historic texts and ephemera in the library to cataloging resources that will help the curatorial staff reconstruct historic timelines. With regularly scheduled education programs, tours and activities, we are also always grateful to welcome volunteers who help with the state’s many historical sites and special events. We have world-class volunteers from all walks of life, and we sincerely appreciate each person’s contribution to our mission!

If you would like to share some of your time and skills with the Delaware Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs, and learn more about the world of historic preservation, education and cultural stewardship, please contact Jennifer Bowman at or fill out an application online at We look forward to getting to know you and welcoming you!

Happy National Volunteer Month!

Jennifer Bowman has been organizing, teaching and celebrating science, culture and history through art and community engagement over the last 20 years. Prior to serving as the division’s volunteer services coordinator, she worked as a historical interpreter at the Zwaanendael Museum.

Photo of Jen Bowman
Jennifer Bowman (she/her)

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