DeLisa Nelson commutes 200 miles round-trip daily by van pool between Atlanta and Columbus for her job as an Aflac actuarial assistant. The commute and her time at the office are about the only waking hours that Nelson isn’t volunteering.
A native of Louisville, Ky., Nelson, 32 and single, moved to Atlanta in June 2001, right after graduating from the University of Kentucky. She’s been employed by Aflac for four-and-a-half years.
Nelson’s choices about how she spends her volunteer time reflect her interests. Theater and concert ushering through Hands On Atlanta and helping the High Museum with fundraising keep her connected to the cultural activities she loves. Building and painting Habitat for Humanity houses are the kinds of hands-on projects she likes to dig into. And serving on United Way’s community investment committee that disperses grants to organizations in need is “an extension of what I do careerwise,” Nelson said.
Nelson spoke to Mother Nature Network about what volunteering means to her.
Mother Nature Network: Why do you volunteer?
Nelson: Initially, it was a neat way to meet other people. Habitat for Humanity helped me learn about Atlanta (by volunteering in different parts of town).
How do you benefit from volunteering?
I like being "that face" — a young African-American female. (It shows that) volunteering isn’t just for a specific demographic. There’s something for everyone. Also, helping people gives me a warm fuzzy feeling: I enlightened somebody about something today.
How has volunteering enriched your life?
I love being out there meeting new people, learning new things. Learning something new is always enriching.
What lessons have you learned from volunteering?
It’s made me more aware of other people’s needs and situations. I never volunteered when I was growing up in Louisville, so in Atlanta I’ve learned about (different kinds of) volunteer opportunities, not just (for example) Meals on Wheels. (Nelson said she was unaware of Habitat For Humanity until she moved to Atlanta.)
How has volunteering made you a better person?
I’m a better listener. I’ve become more patient. I’m a lot more open-minded and empathetic. My boyfriend talks about how selfless I am.
Does working on a volunteer project lead to others?
When I started with Habitat For Humanity, it was just builds. Then I learned about the need for volunteer cashiers at the Habitat ReStore that sells donated building supplies and appliances to the public at discounted prices.
What are special moments you recall from volunteering?
(At Christmas, Moving in the Spirit, a dance program for metro Atlanta urban youth, sponsors a holiday sale for children to purchase gifts for family and friends using merit points accumulated throughout the year.) I’m kind of like an elf, helping kids choose and wrap gifts. I also help (Habitat For Humanity homeowners) with their taxes. They are so grateful.