We took a long break from volunteering when Jim's mother died in late 2013. Our hearts just weren't in it anymore. We needed a break. We also came to the realization that we were spending more time at the animal shelters than we were with our own pets who came from shelters. That's not right. There needs to be a balance. We had to regroup. Our latest volunteer adventure will be hosting a high school exchange student for the school year. We are beyond excited about this and can't wait to begin.
You may think your life is too crazy-busy to possibly allow for volunteer time. But volunteering provides significant benefits, and is definitely worth looking into. Many organizations rely on volunteers to provide valuable services that would otherwise be done by paid employees. Friends and neighbors can benefit from an offer of a helping hand as well. But they're not the only ones who reap rewards from volunteering. Volunteers benefit greatly from the experience, in mind, body, and spirit. I'll mention just a fraction of the ways volunteering your time can put you at an advantage. Here we go.
1. New skills: From bookkeeping and computer operation to carpentry and customer service, volunteering has the potential to provide you with opportunities to learn a variety of new skills. This can not only potentially help you in your current job, but also in discovering a new hobby or a new career.
2. More time: Okay, you're probably thinking, "No way!" But once you start volunteering, you may get the feeling that you're spending your time in a more valuable, productive way, instead of wasting it in front of the TV or on the Internet. So, you start looking out for more ways to help within your community. Years ago, I interviewed a lady for an article on pillars of the commuity. She said that if you want something done, ask a busy person who is active in their community. They will take on more, while others opt for idleness and claim they have no time.
3. Better health: Volunteering can help you live longer, reduce heart disease and chronic pain, boost your mood, give your brain something new to process and figure out, reduce depression, and get you moving. It's much harder to feel sorry for yourself, for example, when you're helping someone who is down on his luck or suffering from a debilitating disease. Or even volunteering at a marathon or a community festival can make you feel good. All that energy helps fuel your self-esteem and make you feel happier.
4. New friendships: The longer you volunteer at a specific place, the better chance you have of developing friendships there. You may form strong bonds that last the rest of your life. Close friendships are a key element to a happy and healthy life.
5. New business contacts: Volunteering is a great way to network. You may get to meet important business contacts that help further your career. For example, if you have a dream of starting a web design business you may volunteer to help out at a business fair booth and run into another web designer who offers to partner with you. You never know.
6. Better social and relationship skills: Volunteering is a social activity. You're almost always working with someone for a common cause. It can help you become a better speaker, ease shyness, relate better to and work better with a variety of people, and feel more comfortable in crowds.
7. Fun!: Volunteering can be a lot of fun. Pick a cause, sporting event, activity, or organization you feel passionate about and ask if you can help. Knowing you are helping support something that is near and dear to your heart will make the experience more fun and rewarding.
8. Break from routine: If you find yourself on a treadmill of sorts, going to work, coming home, rushing through dinner, and falling into bed exhausted, volunteering might be what you need to shake things up a bit. Choose volunteer opportunities that are tied to activities you love to do. For example, if you enjoy camping, you could sign on to help out at a summer camp, if you love animals, you could walk dogs at a local animal shelter on weekends.
- Figure out why you want to volunteer
- Decide what your skills are
- Decide how many hours per week or month you would like to volunteer
- Figure out what expenses you'd incur as a volunteer
- Decide what you would like to do
- Decide where you would like to volunteer
- Visit local organizations to find out what volunteer opportunities are available
- Check out volunteer sites on the Internet to see if you can volunteer online from home, if you would prefer that
- Visit with staff and volunteers at local businesses to see if you click with them
- Ask neighbors and friends if they, or anyone they know, need a helping hand
- Talk to your family about possibly all joining in on a volunteer project together
Where to Go to Find Volunteer Opportunities
There are many non-profits and other businesses who welcome volunteers. Here are just a few:
- Community theaters
- Senior centers
- Youth organizations
- Sporting events
- Religious organizations
- Animal shelters
- After school programs
- Nursing homes
- National parks
- Exchange student organizations (host a student)
- Readiness to take on volunteer responsibilities
- Don't overdo it. Sacrificing health, sleep, family time, "me" time, and the like to help others can lead to burn out and resentment. A little means a lot. Stick with what's manageable.
- Make sure you pick a volunteer position that you will enjoy
- Make sure you know what you are expected to do
- Ask questions about he position before you start and anytime new questions come up
- Do you prefer to take on a position where you'll be moving around a lot, standing, or sitting still?
- Accessibility to the venue or office building
- Move on if the opportunity is no longer fulfilling
- Commute distance
Do you volunteer? What do you love about it? What are some challenges you've faced? I'd love to hear from you.