Volunteering can be done in many ways, such as reading to a class at a local elementary school, helping at a church’s clothing closet, or walking dogs for a local shelter. The list could go on and on, but the bottom line is volunteering means helping someone else. While nonprofits and other organizations greatly benefit from help, it’s a two-way street — volunteers benefit from helping others, too.
Opportunities for Teens
High school students may need help in building their resume, for instance. Not only do service hours look good on college applications, they also show a student is community-minded, which goes a long way when scholarships are being awarded. In addition, volunteering often counts toward work experience, which is crucial when building a resume. Spending time helping at a museum, animal rescue or soup kitchen helps teens build social skills and gain self-confidence. Volunteering is a great way for teens to try out possible career fields, too.
It’s Not What You Know, But Who You Know
What if you aren’t a high school student, but have been out in the workforce for a while and want to make a career change? Just like those first entering the workforce, you’ll be expected to have experience. But, if you’re switching industries, it’s unlikely you’ll have experience in a different field. In this case, you could offer to volunteer or intern at a company you’re interested in. Simply by being present regularly, you’ll make contacts who could be invaluable in getting a job in that field.
Find Your Passion and Purpose
Another group that benefits from volunteering is retirees. No longer having a job to go to every day can be daunting to some. Helping out at a senior center or homeless shelter is a great way to get out of the house, meet new people and feel purposeful. By having an activity to look forward to, you can overcome the stay-at-home doldrums you might be experiencing as a new retiree or as a widow/widower.
Making a Connection
So, what do you do when you’ve decided to volunteer but aren’t sure where to go? If there’s a particular business, nonprofit or school you’re interested in, contact them directly. Otherwise, browse social media for pages specific to your interests. Search for local dog rescues, garden clubs, art museums, etc. Some clubs, such as rotary clubs and master gardeners, are service specific as well. (JustServe.org is a free, nationwide website and app that matches volunteers with opportunities. Read more on Page 18.)
Once you’ve decided where you’re going to focus your efforts, reach out to the organization about volunteer needs. It’s important to make sure to match what you’re interested in doing with what the organization needs done. For instance, if you’re only interested in administrative work, such as stuffing envelopes, make sure you don’t volunteer at an organization that does everything digitally.
Conversely, you also may find opportunities that aren’t onsite. You might be able to provide a service an organization needs, such as building a website or creating fliers for its events. Off-site help also could mean fostering a dog or cat for a local rescue or shelter. Matching your interests and skills with an organization’s needs is mutually beneficial.
What to Expect Before Volunteering
Once you’ve signed up to volunteer, you can expect to have a background check done (if you’ll be working with children) and some sort of orientation. You’ll learn what the organization expects of you, and its policies and procedures for what you’ll be doing. The most important thing to remember while you’re working is to always be enthusiastic about what you’re doing. This is especially vital if you hope to get a job at the organization or in that industry. A dedicated volunteer will get more attention when applying for a job versus one who was lackluster in his or her performance.
Connect With Your Volunteer Manager
A volunteer manager is a great resource especially if you’re a student or applying for a job. He or she can be a reference for scholarships and college applications, and a valuable contact for new job opportunities that might open up. Maintaining good communication with your volunteer manager is key to your volunteer experience.
Volunteering is a win-win for the volunteer and the organization. Get a head start on National Volunteer Month in April, and show a local organization how great you can be by helping them.
– Tiffany Hughes is an Acworth resident and works for the Booth Western Art Museum. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.