icon-cheveron-left Back

5 inspiring reasons why people volunteer at The Bowery Mission

icon-cheveron-left Back

There’s a certain magic in understanding what drives people to give back to their community. At The Bowery Mission, we find that asking “why do you volunteer” can open the door to profound conversations about what it means to live with purpose, build meaningful relationships and make a tangible difference in the lives of others.

As we celebrate Volunteer Appreciation Month, we took a moment to ask our volunteers what motivates them to continue dedicating their time and talents to our cause. Here are five compelling reasons that often inspire people to serve their neighbors in need.

Reason 1: To use free time purposefully and well.

Volunteering at The Bowery Mission can be a meaningful way to use spare time, whether you’re retired, between jobs or experiencing an empty nest. Many volunteers say serving in our kitchen or dining hall has helped them reclaim a sense of usefulness after a major life transition. Others, like teachers and students, say volunteering can be a fulfilling way to spend a summer break or holiday.

As Jay Sarabia, a retired schoolteacher and regular volunteer, shares, “I felt it was good stewardship of my time.” For Jay, retirement is not an end but a beginning, a time to intentionally live for the moment and find fulfillment through helping others. “Volunteering helps me maintain a hopeful perspective about the future,” he says. “In this episode of my life, it keeps me engaged, full of wonder and young at heart.”

Jay, volunteer at The Bowery Mission

“Stewardship is such a big concern of mine. What do I do with the time that’s been given to me? Helping others gives me a sense of fulfillment more than anything else.”

— Jay Sarabia

Reason 2: To connect deeply with others.

Volunteering at The Bowery Mission can be a fantastic way to connect deeply with like-minded members of the community. Whether building camaraderie with a team, bonding as a family or making new friends, volunteers find fulfillment in working toward a common goal.

Carli Tyson, a recent transplant to New York City, loves how volunteering allows her to engage directly with people from all walks of life. She makes it a priority to remember people’s names and stories, recognizing the importance of reaching out to those who are often overlooked. “Getting in an hour of pure unadulterated human connection with people who lack it is so meaningful,” Carli says. “I love getting to make people smile — and they make me smile!”

Carli, volunteer of The Bowery Mission

“I always try to learn and remember the guests’ names. It’s important to have an identity and to know that someone is thinking about you.”

— Carli Tyson

Reason 3: To live out one’s faith.

Volunteering at The Bowery Mission allows many people to live out their faith in tangible ways. Many of our volunteers say service is an expression of their love for God, or that it stemmed from encouragement and support from their church community.

Once a month, Dean Kisciras organizes a group of volunteers from LifeCenter Church NYC to serve meals to guests staying in our overnight shelter. He says his involvement sprung almost entirely from his desire to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

“I really feel that we as a church are called to help, and helping someone in need doesn’t have to require a grand gesture — it’s about learning how to do small things well,” he says. “Whether we’re serving food, helping people feel welcome or cleaning up, it’s important to be consistent, because the way we serve and act leaves an impact.”

Volunteers smiling

Dean Kisciras (far right) with other volunteers from LifeCenter Church NYC.

Reason 4: To honor someone’s memory.

Volunteering at The Bowery Mission can provide a way to honor and preserve a loved one’s memory. Some choose special days like Memorial Day, Veterans Day or 9/11 to pay tribute, while others are motivated by their loved one’s past involvement in our work.

Last Christmas, volunteer Viveann Ainnsley chose to volunteer in honor of her mother who passed away two years ago from cancer. “The holidays don’t feel the same so I wanted to give back to others and do something meaningful,” she says. “It was a joyful atmosphere, people had on red Santa Claus hats and Christmas themed clothing. I was really happy to spend my time doing something good.”

Volunteers smiling

In March, the Consulate General of Japan in New York led its 10th annual volunteer effort to commemorate the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. By serving New Yorkers in need, volunteers brought special meaning to the day.

Reason 5: To pay it forward.

Volunteering at The Bowery Mission is often motivated by a deep desire to pay it forward. Some of our volunteers have been in similar situations and now seek to give back what they have received. Others are driven by their sense of civic responsibility or desire to share their blessings with others in the community.

Since graduating from The Bowery Mission’s Residential Programs in 2017, Tara has continued to serve here, first as a volunteer and now as a part-time alumni coordinator. She notes that one of the best parts of serving is the ability to “pay forward” all the blessings she received at the Mission. “You guys need me, I’m here, because when I needed you, you were here,” she says.

Volunteer smiling

Lawrence, graduate of the Mission’s Residential Program for men, returned to volunteer at the Mission on Thanksgiving Day.

Volunteer Today!

Ready to get involved? Whether you’re looking to connect with others, live out your faith, honor a loved one or simply pay it forward, there’s a place for you at The Bowery Mission. Last year, our volunteers made it possible for us to provide our neighbors 320,000 hot meals, 66,000 nights of safe shelter, 45,000 emergency showers and 32,000 articles of clothing. Join our volunteer family and make a difference in the lives of others today. Learn more and sign up.