Upon graduating with a Master’s degree, my friend Jane decided to celebrate by inviting those in her social network to volunteer with her. Everyone who was willing joined her for a morning of serving the homeless. At first, I was struck by how unusual this sounded, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it made a lot of sense. What better way to spend quality time together than by volunteering? And what better way to maximize the impact of your service than by inviting others to join you?
Make A Difference Day, which occurs on October 22 this year, has become the largest day of community service in our country. In fact, volunteers around the world participate in community-strengthening activities on the fourth Saturday in October in an effort improve the lives of others. Consider this day an invitation to do good right where you live. Once you give it a try, you may conclude that volunteering need not be relegated to a single day a year. After all, volunteering can become a habit that’s as good for you as it is for those in need of your help.
Think of It as Personal Improvement
In addition to improving your community and advancing worthwhile causes, volunteering is beneficial on a personal level. When you find a volunteering opportunity that is a good match for your skills and talents, you’ll gain a great deal from volunteering, including both physical and mental health benefits such as reduced stress, deeper ties to your community, and an enhanced social network. Volunteering even looks great on your resume.
Take Stock of Your Options
Pick something that you’re passionate about. Do you want to develop literacy skills in children, end hunger, help refugees, improve the environment or protect vulnerable animals? Use your interests as a starting point when looking for ways to serve. Although there are lots of organizations that could use more help to make their programs run smoothly, don’t forget that service opportunities are all around you. Maybe you could start by offering to rake leaves for an elderly neighbor.
Make it a Team Effort
Invite friends or family to join you. This summer, my younger sister invited my kids and me to join her family for a shift at Feed My Starving Children. We enjoyed spending time together, and felt good about doing something that would benefit needy children. Volunteering with others affords opportunities to get to know each other better, and the built-in accountability can help you all see your commitment through. Furthermore, there’s a real sense of belonging that can form while working as a team.
Don’t forget about virtual volunteering opportunities. Some organizations have a need for tech savvy volunteers, and this may be a great way to fit volunteering into your schedule since the hours when you help out could be quite flexible.
Just Jump In
If you’re looking for ideas on where to volunteer, check out the following websites, which provide lists of organizations and their specific current needs.
Hands on Twin Cities: http://www.handsontwincities.org/
Doing Good Together: http://www.doinggoodtogether.org/family-volunteering-twin-cities/
By Anita Dualeh