Gayle Igarashi, a secretary at Maluhia Hospital in Honolulu, was forever changed the moment she saw stroke patients, who’d lost the ability to speak, interacting with one of her therapy dogs.
“To see the smiles on people’s faces—that’s something you never forget,” she says. “They pet the dogs and just cried. Later, when they could speak, they said that with the dogs there, they felt loved and human.”
Seeing how patients connected with the animals and how it comforted them led Igarashi to launch her “Tails of Aloha” animal therapy program in 2000 (tailsofaloha.com). It was no small task; she says it required about 20 additional hours of work each week.
It was worth the effort, though. Today the program is so popular, Igarashi receives calls from other Hawaiian hospitals and nursing homes requesting her 50-plus animal-therapy volunteers. She also trains search-and-rescue dogs.
Community service is a hot topic these days. People who serve their communities, such as Igarashi, say it’s one of the most valuable things they do. Here’s why:
High return on your time investment. Igarashi says that the happiness she feels is 10 times bigger than the effort she puts in. “People on my teams say they sometimes feel tired,” she says, “but when they think about what they’ve achieved, they can’t stop.”
Recession-friendly outlook on life. “Service changes your perspective on life,” she says. “I always used to have these shoes and this bag. Now, those status things didn’t matter. I felt more fulfilled by volunteering.”
Sense of accomplishment. Igarashi has seen the number of volunteers in her program rise quickly this year. That’s an affirmation of all her work and measurable proof of her skills.
If you’re embarking on a service project of your own, keep this advice from Igarashi in mind:
Take time to recharge. Does Igarashi ever burn out? “Yes,” she says.
“After five years, I realized I was doing this project all the time. So I took two weeks off, went to Vegas and pampered myself. After that, I was raring to go again!”
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