With the holiday season upon us and the New Year just around the corner, I can’t help but reflect on the gratitude I feel for our communities. While we’ve seen our share of challenges these past two years, I am heartened by the ways we have all pulled together to make them stronger.

Many Illinois electric cooperatives conduct winter coat and mitten drives, collect food for area pantries or serve as a drop-off point for holiday toy drives. While many of these efforts are focused around the holidays, cooperative concern for community is a year-round endeavor.

Volunteerism and giving back are part of the DNA of cooperatives. Co-op employees and line workers are volunteer firefighters and first responders in our communities, putting their lives at risk to help others. Others coach youth sports, assist in school productions, help at neighborhood food banks or serve on local boards.

I look at volunteerism as the gift that keeps on giving. While it’s difficult to quantify the impact that volunteers have, I do know they make a tremendous difference in our communities and make our corner of the world a better place. Many organizations depend on volunteers to fulfill their mission. Volunteers fill in gaps and spread joy and compassion through their efforts. Even assisting with the smallest tasks can make a big impact in the lives of people, animals or an organization in need. Often a big commitment or special skills are not needed, just someone who cares.

I hope you’ll consider volunteering, not just during the holiday season but year-round. Give an organization or cause that you care about the gift of your compassion, time and talent. In addition to the organization and the community benefitting from your efforts, you will receive a gift as well. Not only will you enjoy the satisfaction of knowing you are helping a good cause, you will likely make new friends, expand your social network, strengthen existing skills or learn a new one.

Volunteering may provide additional dimension and purpose to your life. In the process, you will be a role model for your family because your commitment will offer a powerful lesson to your children. It will show them first-hand how one person can make a big difference and strengthen the community in which they live.

At the end of the day, the gift of volunteerism is a gift that will continue giving all year long. So, this holiday season, consider starting a new tradition—give the gift of time.