After working for 10 years in Aflac’s IT security department, the job for which she and her family relocated to Columbus from Washington state, Nadine Kiefer has spent the past year as manager of IT processes and standards control.

Kiefer, 52, said becoming a volunteer was a “link into the community” for herself, her husband and their two daughters. It was actually her elder daughter, now a college student, who was the impetus for the family’s volunteer efforts when, as a high school student, she needed to log community service hours.

Kiefer and her daughter signed on to volunteer three hours weekly at the Ronald McDonald House. Today, Kiefer’s stay-at-home husband, Bob, makes weekly deliveries of donated Panera Bread products to the Ronald McDonald House and makes dinner there once a month, and Kiefer and her younger daughter, a high school senior, serve monthly as weekend managers of the facility.

Kiefer spoke to Mother Nature Network about what volunteering means to her.

MNN: Why do you volunteer?

Kiefer: It’s always been a part of me. My mom was a volunteer. I hope my kids will be volunteers. It’s getting outside of yourself and wanting to help others. You could be on the other side of (a difficult situation) and hope there’s a volunteer to help you. It’s compassion for others that helps you see the need.

Why the Ronald McDonald House?

My older daughter almost died from pneumonia when she was in high school. I can appreciate if a family (with a hospitalized child) is from out of town, having that opportunity (of staying in a house) that’s almost like home. It’s important to people when they are in such a stressful situation.

How does a community benefit from volunteers like you helping out?

Especially in these terrible economic times, without volunteers many of these facilities wouldn’t exist because there aren’t enough grants and donations available. Professionals say 100,000 not-for-profits are expected to go out of business this year. How many people rely on those services and where will they go?

How do you benefit from volunteering?

It’s so good for the heart. You don’t always feel like cleaning a bathroom [one of Kiefer’s tasks as a Ronald McDonald House weekend manager] but then you realize what (the families) are going through. You get to know the whole family situation and it’s heartwarming to know you can lessen some part of their burden.

What are special moments you’ve experienced as a volunteer?

Most are centered around when a premature baby gains enough weight (or any child becomes well enough) to go home. It’s the moment when you see that stress fall away from the family, to see the family become whole again.

How has volunteering made you a better parent?

I use everything as an object lesson for my girls. Having the whole family (volunteer together) gives a great sense of purpose and a commitment to the community.

What lessons have you learned from the people you’ve helped through volunteering?

Don’t assume that you can categorize people by the situation they’re in. Ask more questions and learn who they are. Don’t get caught up in perceptions society has of some groups of people.

Other than hands-on volunteering, how have you helped Ronald McDonald House?

I tend to get engaged in fundraising. I’m process oriented and see opportunities to leverage volunteer activities better.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

By then I’ll be an empty-nester and probably adding a few more regular volunteer events to my schedule.