Is there something you’re passionate about? Do you like the feeling of being helpful? Want to try something new or open up opportunities?
My answers to most of the questions above are “yes”, and one thing I love doing - that tends to fill all of these motivations - is volunteering, also known as community service. Put simply, it’s doing “work” of some sort… for free.
I’ve volunteered many times, and can’t think of a single community service experience I’ve had where I didn’t get something out of it, whether knowledge, some more tangible gain, or just the satisfaction of having helped. With that in mind, I’m going to outline some ideas for how to get started with volunteering if you haven’t already, and a few of the many reasons it can be worthwhile.
While there are innumerable ways of volunteering, some options I’d recommend include:
- A homeless shelter or food pantry.
Sadly, in this world many people don’t have enough to eat, or even anywhere to live. The good news is there are many organizations out there that provide free resources for those in need, a place to spend the night, or free food. There’s probably something like this near where you live, such as a food pantry or homeless shelter, and these types of programs are usually looking for more people to help out.
Do you enjoy sharing your knowledge and talents with other people? There are lots of people out there who need help in various areas – but not everyone can afford to pay a private tutor. You could either look into whether there’s a tutoring program in your area you could work with, or go it alone – make “free tutoring” flyers and stick them up on telephone poles around your neighborhood, on the bulletin board at your public library, or at the local elementary school.
This can be for any cause you believe in - political, environmental, social, etc. Do you support a candidate running for political office? See if you can join their campaign! Concerned about social justice issues? Look into the local ACLU branch! If there’s a cause you care about, but don’t have the money to donate financially (as many kids don’t), your help is just as valuable.
- Working with kids.
I know many people, myself included, love children. There are numerous potential ways to volunteer with kids, including being a volunteer Counselor in Training at a summer camp (as I’ve done for two summers), helping out at an afterschool program in your town, assisting at a young children’s class, or even offering free childcare.
- Helping at an assisted living/nursing home.
If you know someone who lives in a nursing home, you might be aware that it’s easy to get lonely. You’d be amazed how much you can brighten up someone’s day just by stopping by and spending time talking with the older people there! Volunteering at one of these places can take many forms, whether it’s just chatting, delivering meals, or - as I’ve done - giving a mini concert.
Love writing? See if you can join the school newspaper, or even work for another local news source. And volunteering for a newspaper or magazine doesn’t necessarily have to involve writing either – among other things, you could take photos, illustrate, proofread, advertise, or sell the paper.
- Helping with anything you love.
You’d be surprised what you find on a closer look at some things which may not seem like a volunteer opening at first glance. My favorite example of this is the volunteer experience I’ve loved the most so far: New Moon Girls! I’ve loved the magazine and website for years, and I’m now a volunteer intern and Sister to Sister mentor for NMG (hence this article!). True, not everything accepts volunteers, but it never hurts to ask and find out if you can assist something you like, be that as a band librarian or at a nature park.
Of course, these are just a few ideas. There are so many opportunities out there of every shape and size, and many also vary by location – ask your parents to help look into more options.
So, we’ve established that there are plenty of ways to volunteer. But the question remains: Why? What’s in it for you?
- Simply doing good.
You probably don’t even know all the ways you benefit from volunteers – the parents who donate their time to help run your school, the activists who work tirelessly to keep the world safe for everyone… all the moderators and other volunteers who make NMG the great place it is! It’s good to give back, even for no other reason. One of the things that makes me happiest, personally, is being able to make other people happy, and volunteering is a great way to go about that.
Volunteer for a positive mission with something you already like for its own sake (teaching, playing with kids, writing, playing music, etc.). Almost anything can be turned to help others if you put your mind to it.
Forget altruism; volunteering helps discover new opportunities you’d never have had otherwise. The head counselor at a camp I volunteered at this summer offered me a part-time assistant job at a class she teaches this fall! That type of thing can spring up where you don’t expect it and make volunteering even more rewarding than it already is. If nothing else, it looks great on a résumé or application for college or a job, once you get to that point, or anything else – even for another volunteer opportunity, for that matter! Colleges, employers, etc. want people who care about what they do, and if you can demonstrate your engagement in community service, they’ll know your dedication goes beyond the paycheck or grade. In addition, volunteer supervisors can often serve as great references in the future.
This is a big one. Whatever type of volunteering you do, you’ll definitely be getting experience of one sort or another. Aside from a résumé, experience is important in and of itself. Almost always, you’ll learn something new, improve your skills at something, gain confidence, etc.. You’ll grow in specific abilities, and you’ll grow as a person.
Not sure if you want to commit to something large-scale or ongoing yet? Start with a one-time thing; get a feel for whether it’s something you’d like to continue with. Many programs will be more than happy to have you stop by just once or twice. You could also look for an isolated event: an activity at your local library, a school fair, a trash pickup day, or any number of other things.
Have fun volunteering – and, if you’ve done it before, share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!