While painting a slew of model ponies this week, I concentrated on how each pony should look and how to make it look its best. The model ponies are for a charity auction that is held each year on Chincoteague Island during Pony Penning week, just a week away. They are painted to look like favorite ponies among the wild ponies that reside on the Chincoteague Wildlife Refuge on Assateague Island. Money raised at the auction helps The Feather Fund, a nonprofit organization that buys pony foals for deserving youth.

As I painted, I wondered when to start dinner, since I didn't know what time my husband would get home. He was mowing grass at our community park with another volunteer. That set my chain of thought off in another direction, thinking about all the friends we've made through volunteerism.


I hope my grandchildren become volunteers one day. Their parents set a good example of that. If I could, I would shout from the rooftops so my grandkids could hear of the rewards that come with a volunteering spirit.

During his Points of Light speech as part of his inauguration in 1989, President George Bush spoke of "all the individuals and community organizations spread like stars through the nation, doing good." That speech resonated with many.

He was piggybacking on the sentiments of Ronald Reagan, who once said, "The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things."

Throughout my lifetime I have heard our nation's leaders speak of volunteerism, but I didn't realize how good it felt to volunteer until I first pitched in as a teen, volunteering with my church group. Leaders of both parties have encouraged Americans to get involved and to do good for others.

In one of his speeches, Barrack Obama said, "The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don't wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope."

And I remember, as a very small child watching John F. Kennedy speak on the black-and-white television screen. My grade school self didn't understand the meaning when he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." But I understand it now.

My parents did not volunteer. With seven kids and a hard work life I think they were so focused on keeping us fed that they couldn't think past that. If only they could have reaped those feelings of self-worth and personal growth that come with doing things for others.

I don't do nearly as much as I should but I make an effort, keeping a website and putting out a newsletter for my Lions Club, helping care for our community park and working for the Feather Fund. I often think of the other charities I wish I had time for. There are so many ways to volunteer. When I was a kid I was in awe of the candy stripers working at the hospital — youth volunteers who were not only learning the value of doing good things, but also learning about a trade.

Volunteers often gain professional experience that they can use in future jobs. They find personal growth and a sense of purpose. I used to feel guilty for feeling so good about helping out. I thought, isn't volunteering supposed to be a sacrifice? So why does it feel so good?

I have since learned that volunteerism truly is a two-way street. While volunteers help others and make positive changes, their own lives can be transformed. I have gained a new family through my volunteer work with the Feather Fund.

Our Feather Fund is like a family. More than 30 kids have received ponies from all over the United States. These kids keep in touch on Facebook and through email and phone calls and once a year they get together on the island. They all volunteer at our charity auction, they hang together, they share stories about their ponies and training tips with each other, and they always welcome the two new kids who will be getting their foals at the Pony Penning auction that year. They develop a huge sense of responsibility toward each other and they all value the concept of giving back.

I love this Feather Fund family. We have a picnic each year at Pony Penning with all returning families. Sometimes more than 70 people turn out to share potluck food in the community park. But the Feather Fund is not an exception. It is the rule. Those who join groups to volunteer frequently find opportunities to network. They find friends, forging strong relationships and bonds that enhance their lives. They find self-worth and the happiness that can only be found in giving.

I am passionate about the Chincoteague ponies and I am even more passionate about the Feather Fund because I have seen the change that these foals bring into young lives. They teach kids about love and acceptance, giving them a soft shoulder to cry on and share secrets when needed. They teach about hard work. A pony needs to be cared for and that includes shoveling a path to the barn during snowy seasons, watering, feeding and grooming and the backbreaking work of shoveling out the barn daily to keep a clean stall. I've seen Feather Fund kids get involved in their communities, strive for better grades, feel good about themselves and develop lifelong friendships.

I once read that volunteers live longer and I believe that. Volunteering fills your soul and when you feel good you stay healthier. While strengthening your community you gain extra years. That is a win-win situation.


I've learned that my Feather Fund family makes me smile a lot. I think that every smile we pass on lights up the day for another person. That could even start a viral chain, with folks passing smiles on and on. If it feels this good to volunteer, why would I ever quit? Everyone should give it a try.

Lois Szymanski is a Carroll County resident and can be reached at loisszymanski@hotmail.com.