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Editor's note: Today is International Volunteer Day 2012. This year's theme is "Celebrate Volunteering!" Heifer International is supported by many volunteers, in both developed and developing countries. Today we share accounts from our volunteers and staff. The following post is by Kate Merrill, Heifer's Atlanta Community Engagement Coordinator.

I’m often asked by my colleagues in other charities how Heifer is able to maintain over 80 percent of its revenue from contributions, even in the hardest of economic times, and continue to build upon the 20.7 million families around the world Heifer has helped. I tell them that it’s simple – we have an amazingly diverse and widespread grassroots network of helpers. People who feel a deep connection to our work are embedded in communities across the U.S., sharing Heifer in their congregations, schools, civic organizations, at local fairs and festivals and even dropping Heifer Gift Catalogs in doctor’s offices and airplane seat pockets. They are young and old, of every background and race, and individual powerhouses of energy and enthusiasm for sharing our work. They keep our mission alive at the local level so we can train, educate and empower impoverished communities on a global level.

Early Heifer Volunteers

The first Heifer volunteers stood up in Dan West’s church in 1944 and offered cows to struggling families in Puerto Rico. Then young male volunteers, called “Seagoing Cowboys,” transported our animals on ships to our first projects around the world. And while our volunteers no longer need a farming background to contribute, they have the same heart for helping the poor help themselves through a passion for sharing our mission.

The line distinguishing a donor from a volunteer at Heifer is nonexistent. Anyone who gives a gift of an animal to another person is passing on our mission to another person. We are all advocates for Heifer’s work each time we share with others how the simple gift of an animal can be the difference between hunger and self-reliance for a family in need.

Young volunteer.

Many of the staff at Heifer were once volunteers themselves, and many who have moved on from Heifer still are! Heifer’s mission lives inside of us for a lifetime, bringing out the best in us as we work together to create a more just and sustainable world.

Volunteering for Heifer feels good because helping others feels good. People flock to you to tell you their story about how they’ve supported Heifer, why they love the mission and what their favorite animal to give is. Like-minded people engage you in conversations about feeding the world’s poor. People thank you for sharing Heifer with them! Atlanta volunteers, Ernie Scott and Polly Holder, tell me how much it inspires them when they give a presentation or staff a booth and are surrounded by an instant community of people eager to help others. Ernie says, “It reminds me that I’m not alone.”

It is easy to get overwhelmed by the problems in our world and feel that as an individual, there is little to be done to enact positive change. I’m reminded of something Fred Rogers said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” No matter how disparaging things might be, we hold an incredible power to inspire and empower others through our actions. For each animal Heifer gives, there is an average of six pass-ons through Passing on the Gift. The same rings true for sharing Heifer’s work. Pass on to others why you support Heifer, and watch it grow. Being a helper is one of the easiest, most personally fulfilling ways to make a difference in the world.

Volunteer group.

On this International Volunteer Day, we thank you – our endlessly hopeful, dedicated Heifer Helpers – for making Heifer’s work possible through every gift you give, booth you staff, presentation you do, and conversation you have that moves us one step closer to ending hunger and poverty. Thank you for sharing Heifer in your sphere of influence and giving the gift of hope to families all over the world.

Become a Heifer Volunteer.


Brooke Edwards

Brooke Edwards is from Little Rock, Arkansas, and started working at Heifer International in 2009 as a writer. She and her husband raise two daughters in a house way too small for their four pets. They spend a lot of time sweeping.