With this being the 40th annual National Volunteer Week, I am going a different direction with my post today, and want to connect you with some great ways you can volunteer in your community and some wonderful organizations that are always looking for help, as well as highlighting the benefits of volunteering.
With our busy lives, it can be hard to time to volunteer. Somedays I feel like I can barely keep my own life in order let alone have the time to think about helping others, but when I make the time to help others I feel a sense of fulfillment, community, and happiness.
I’ve chosen to highlight a few of the organizations that I’ve been involved with and will be sharing some of my story alongside as well as some of the benefits I’ve gained throughout my volunteer experiences.
I started volunteering when I was a freshman in high school. As I was growing up I wanted to become more involved in my community and I wanted to also learn more about me and what I wanted to be when I grew up. At the time I wanted to be in the medical field so I looked into my local hospital (Frankford) and decided to become a Candy Striper. Now that term is one that isn’t used as much anymore, but it was when I was a hospital volunteer and I wore that fun red and white jumper outfit. (I cannot find any photos to share, but maybe at my next visit to my parents I will come across some.)
The great part about being a Candy Striper at such a young age was being able to work in many different departments at the hospital. Anywhere from welcoming and directing guests, to helping out in the canteen, organizing medical records, delivering patient meals, and transporting equipment – I got to do a lot during my 3 or so years of volunteering there. I was awarded for volunteering over 200 hours during my time there and it also helped me to show community involvement, service, and time management skills when I applied to college. I also learned a lot about myself and what I did and didn’t enjoy.
Volunteering is a great way to teach you invaluable job skills and also to help you choose a career path. Here’s my award from 1995:
The time commitment does not have to be as much as it was for me, many hospitals will accept volunteers for a couple of hours a week. It is a great way to learn, help others, build friendships, and give back. The best way to get started is to contact your local hospital to see if they are looking for volunteers and how you can apply.
Sports Training Events for Medicine Research & Support
When I was in high school I also became involved with sports training events and raising money for medical research and support organizations.
My first experience was with Team in Training. I trained to run my first marathon in San Diego and to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They provided coaching, running meet ups, and support and was a great way to learn about running. For me this led to a new hobby of running and I have run at least 50 charity races since (mainly 5Ks and 10Ks,) and also participated in charity bike rides including the MS City to Shore Ride and the American Diabetes Tour de Cure. For the marathon I raised about $3,000 for research mainly through friends and family monetary donations and bake sales at my work. It was also a great way to travel and make new friends. Training for these events are a wonderful way to learn something new and to raise awareness about a cause you care about.
My marathon experience was almost 20 years ago and the number of organizations doing this has seemed to really grow since. Today I feel like there is a 5K race every weekend for a different charity so my advice here is to find an organization or cause that you feel a personal connection with and start there. My niece was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes 3 years ago and her Mom has organized friends and family members to participate in the annual Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation walk to show support for my niece and help raise money for juvenile diabetes research. Here I am with my Mom and Dad at the walk in 2011:
Big Brothers Big Sisters is an organization that makes meaningful, monitored matches between adult volunteers (“Bigs”) and children (“Littles”), ages 6 through 18, in communities across the country. They develop positive relationships that have a direct and lasting effect on the lives of young people.
I was a Big Sister for 9 years and watched my little grow from a child at the age of 10 when we were matched to a young adult at age 18. I was a mentor, a friend, a role model and someone who she could trust in her life. We participated in many activities together, including game nights, crafting, and working on challenging homework assignments. We went on day trips together and visited museums, including a day trip to Washington D.C. – we visited local zoos, sports games, and attended holiday parties together. I watched my little grow up before my eyes and learned so much about her Hispanic culture as well. I attended her music concerts and was so proud of her when she graduated high school. Here are some photos of us spending time together:
I gave her the invaluable gift of friendship and along the way we had a lot of fun and we made some great memories. She in turn gave me back that friendship as well as her respect, trust, and laughter. We’ve since “graduated” from the program (the official relationship ends at age 18) and we still stay in touch while she’s away at college and have plans to get together this summer. My little made me feel special and her beautiful smile brightened up my world.
Being a Big Sister was an amazing experience and I encourage others to think about volunteering with this wonderful organization. The time commitment is a couple of hours a few times a month and there is no special experience or education required – you just have to want to positively impact a young person. Role models come in all shapes and sizes, and you could be a perfect fit! The best way to get started is to contact your local BBBS chapter through their online link. You will be required to fill out an application and also a background and criminal record check will be performed. After an interview with your local chapter they will place you with a little that they feel would benefit from your relationship and someone that has some of the same things in common with you.
Local Organizations & Community Groups
After college and when I bought my first home I sought to return to volunteering more in the community in order to meet new people and feel a sense of connection to others around me. I wasn’t sure where to look or what was near me that might need a helping hand, so I googled local places to volunteer and the organization Greater Philadelphia Cares came up and I joined them. They would publish a monthly calendar and you could sign up for the volunteer activities that would interest you. One of my favorite experiences was volunteering for a dance for teenagers with disabilities, playing BINGO at a senior center, and helping at a local food and clothing bank. Greater Philadelphia Cares and United Way have since merged and you can check out their page here to see how you can help. Their overall mission is to motivate people to volunteer their time, talents and resources in order to enhance the impact of nonprofit agencies. If you aren’t sure where to turn locally I would recommend starting with United Way to search their databases for opportunities.
Another way to volunteer is to offer to teach others something you are passionate about. I took up beekeeping as a hobby about 5 years ago with my Dad. I enjoyed it so much and really became passionate about saving our bees and educating others about their importance that I volunteered to sit on the Montgomery County Beekeepers Association board. I became the community link for organizations looking for beekeepers to come speak to their groups or children. (I have stepped down since becoming a Mom.) I’ve spoken at schools and events about the importance of bees and beekeeping. I am pictured below with my niece after I went to her school to speak to her third grade class about bees. She tells me her teacher still talks about the day I went into his classroom and remembers it has one of the great learning experiences for his students. If you have a hobby or interest in something one of the ways you can volunteer your time and knowledge is to offer a free community class at your local library or school. If you have a hobby or passion for something sharing it is a great way for others to learn and for you to meet other people who are passionate about the same things as you are.
I moved again a couple of years ago and I wasn’t sure how to make new friends (I’m going to have a post on making friends in your 30s & 40s soon too!) I read an article in the local paper about a new playground that our neighborhood wanted to build and needed help raising money and awareness for it. I didn’t know how I could help but I emailed the woman who was organizing the efforts and told her I could help in anyway she needed. I met her later that week and became a part of the Chestnut Street Playground project that is coming to fruition this summer. I’ve since had a child and I cannot wait to take her over there to play and tell her how I was involved in the project. After helping with the fundraising efforts on the project I have since stayed friends with a couple of the other committee members too!
If you live in a small town chance are there is a local main streets group. Souderton Telford Main Streets is in our local two neighboring towns and they are always looking for more volunteers for events and all their committees. Our local group has helped to promote local businesses, organize our farmers market, and last year they put together our first annual art/craft fair. Joining these groups is a great way to help the whole community, meet new people, and have a lot of fun. It also helps you to feel connected to your community and a sense of pride.
Lastly, I also joined a local business women’s group, the Souderton-Telford Business and Professional Womens Group. This has really become a support network for me as well as offering some great volunteer projects to help out in the community. Groups like this really strengthen your ties to the community and broadens your support network, exposing you to people with common interests, neighborhood resources, and fun and fulfilling activities.
Get out and see what your local community has to offer, you’ll likely be amazed about the amount of volunteer opportunities that exist!
Habitat for Humanity is an organization many people are aware of and a lot of corporations spend time volunteering with them as well. HFH “believes that every man, woman and child should have a decent, safe and affordable place to live. We build and repair houses all over the world using volunteer labor and donations. Our partner families purchase these houses through no-profit, no-interest mortgage loans or innovative financing methods.”
Currently I’m working on an Upcycle Challenge with my local Habitat and Restore. The Restores (at least in our area) are more of a newer addition to HFH. The Restores offer quality used and surplus building materials at a fraction of normal prices, while helping to fund Habitat for Humanity house construction. Here’s a closer look into the Restore Montco which is the store I’m currently doing the Upcycle Challenge with.
If you are not comfortable in a construction setting, the Restores are also looking for volunteers to help as cashiers, carrying furniture, and clerical work.
Here are some tips for Getting Started Volunteering
First, ask yourself if there is something specific you want to do.
For example, do I want…
…to make it better around where I live
…to meet people who are different from me
…to try something new
…to do something with my spare time
…to see a different way of life and new places
…to have a go at the type of work I might want to do as a full-time job
…to do more with my interests and hobbies
…to do something I’m good at
The best way to volunteer is to match your personality and interests. Having answers to these questions will help you narrow down your search. (Source: World Volunteer Web)
This post got to be a little longer than I envisioned – thanks for sticking with me! As you can tell I’m pretty passionate about volunteering and while sometimes I feel like it’s “one more thing to juggle,” but when I stop and get involved I feel such a sense of fulfillment and happiness. So, what are you waiting for… time to get up, get out, and volunteer!