The most prized piece of art in my house is a pencil-on-paper drawing of an oblong soccer ball underneath the message “BEST COCH EVER.”
The artist is one of the seven-year-olds I’ve coached as a volunteer with the public youth-soccer league in Georgetown, where I live, thirty miles north of Austin. Thank-you notes from other kids I’ve “coched” cover my fridge door. It’s one of the first things I see every morning and something I take special note of after a hard day. There are purchased works of art on my walls I’d leave behind in a fire if it meant saving the kids’ small tokens of gratitude.
But really, I am at least as grateful. That’s exactly what volunteering feels like. You receive more than what you put into it, and what you receive is substantial and priceless: in addition to simply feeling good about giving your time and energy to others, you become part of the community you’re serving. You learn about other people’s lives, but you also learn a lot about yourself, and it gives you something to think about that isn’t work.
Yet according to data kept by Ameri-Corps, Texas has seen a recent sharp decline in the share of residents who volunteer through an organization. In 2017, 28.4 percent of Texans volunteered, but in 2021, the latest year for which data is available, only 21.3 percent did, which puts us at thirty-ninth in the country. (Utah leads the nation with 40.7 percent.)
Perhaps it was the pandemic or the influx of newcomers who need time to settle in, or the stress of the uneven economy. I’ll say that the most cited obstacles to volunteering are easily overcome: figuring out what you have to offer (in my case twelve years of playing organized soccer in my youth) and showing up the first time. Don’t overthink it. Do it for your neighbors—and for yourself.
This article originally appeared in the December 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “If Nothing Else, Coach.” Subscribe today.