Volunteering is an opportunity to change lives, including your own. If you're feeling
frustrated or overwhelmed by the news of a disaster, volunteering to help can be a
great way to cope. If you'd like to support a cause but can't afford to donate money,
you can donate your time instead.
Helping others in need is such an important part of the American way of life that
many high schools require their students to spend a certain number of hours volunteering
in order to graduate.
So how do you go about it?
Find What's Right for You
Unlike school, with volunteering you get to pick what really interests you and
who (or what) is most deserving of your time. Need some ideas to get you started?
Here are just a few:
Help kids learn and grow. Become a Big Brother or Big Sister,
camp counselor, or volunteer for an after-school sports program. Special Olympics
games and events are great ways to get to know special-needs kids.
Give back over the holidays. Serve Thanksgiving dinner to the
homeless, volunteer at your local food bank, or distribute toys to kids. Your
church, temple, mosque, or other place of worship also may be able to use your help.
Play with pets at a local animal shelter. Most shelters depend
on volunteers to keep the cats and dogs happy and well exercised. (And when you're
walking rescued dogs, you get a workout too.)
Volunteer for a political campaign. If you're interested in politics,
it's a great way to find out how things work on the inside. Even if you can't vote,
you can still work to get your candidate elected — whether it's the
president of the United States or your town mayor.
Help the environment. Join a conservation group and help out with river
preservation. Take part in a local park cleanup day. You don't have to be an
outdoorsy type — if you can't picture yourself hauling trees up a hill, you
could help out in a park office or education center.
Support a health-related cause. Lots of us are close to people
who have a medical problem (like cancer, HIV, or diabetes, for example). It can feel
good to donate your time to an organization that raises money for research, delivers
meals, or offers other help to people with an illness.
If you have more than one thing you love, find a way to combine the two. For example,
if you love kids and are great at arts and crafts, visit your local children's hospital
and offer to lead art activities for young patients.
Find What Fits Your Schedule
Once you've found something that inspires you, decide how much time you want to
spend. Local organizations (like hospitals or shelters) often like volunteers
to give them a set amount of time every week or two.
But what if school, sports, or other commitments prevent you from devoting time
every week? Many large organizations (especially those related to the environment
or finding cures for diseases) have day-long activities. These include walkathons,
bike rides, cleanup days, or building homes for those in need.
You can also spend a week, month, or even a whole summer volunteering through a
structured internship or "alternative spring break" program. The advantage of these
is you get to immerse yourself in the activities and feel a real sense of achievement
when you see the results. Because you spend a lot of time together, most people
who work on long-term volunteer projects form close friendships. Sometimes
you get to travel, and the organization may pay your travel and living
Expand Your Mind
Volunteering is a great way to learn new skills — from working as part of
a team to setting and reaching goals. It gives you a chance to discover what kinds
of things you're best at and enjoy the most. A volunteer job that you love can even
help shape your ideas about your career goals.
Volunteering also can give you a sense of responsibility because people really
depend on you. And it can help you develop a new understanding of people who are different
from you — people with disabilities, people in financial distress, sick kids,
or the elderly.
Donating your time is a great way to feel like you have the power to change things
for the better. When people depend on you, it can change the way you look at yourself.
You can feel proud of the goals that you've achieved for an organization — whether
it's helping to organize a 10K to raise money for breast cancer or running the race
Volunteering is also a great way to get a perspective on your own life. Sometimes
it's easy to get consumed by worries about your grades or the fight you had with your
friend or parent. And although these things are very important in their own way, sometimes
it can be helpful to get some distance and think about other things. Volunteering
allows you to do this. It lets you focus on others and see that your involvement in
the world can be meaningful.
Finally, volunteering can help save you from being bored — it gives you a
place to be where you can have a good time and keep busy.
When you donate your time to a cause you care about, it looks impressive on college
or job applications. That's not the main reason for volunteering, of course —
if you do it just to please other people or to look good you may not enjoy
it. But volunteering does show others (and yourself!) that you are reliable enough
to make a commitment and show up on schedule.
Volunteering also shows employers and colleges that you believe in making the world
a better place — and that you're willing to sacrifice your time and energy to
Where Do I Sign Up?
After you've decided what you're interested in and how much time you can devote,
it's time to find out where you can volunteer.
You have several choices. You can search the Internet or look in your local phone
book under "volunteer." You can call an organization directly and ask if they need
volunteers in your area. You can ask friends or relatives for ideas and contacts or
look on bulletin boards in your library or in bookstores. It's worth spending the
time up front to identify a job that's a good fit for you.
When you're calling an organization to offer your time, it's best to ask for a
volunteer coordinator. Be ready to answer some questions, like:
Why do you want to volunteer for our organization?
What do you know about our organization?
How many hours a week will you be able to volunteer?
What are your interests?
Do you have any special skills?
Do you have a way to get here?
Most places will ask you to come for an interview, which is usually pretty casual.
They want to talk to you face to face and if they haven't yet asked the questions
above, they will do it at the interview.
Whether your interview is on the phone or in person, don't forget to ask questions
of your own. For example:
What will be expected of me if I volunteer here?
What kind of training will I receive?
How many other volunteers are there?
How many hours do you expect me to volunteer each week/month?
You might even want to ask if you can observe some other volunteers in action to
get a feel for the work before you commit.
If it's a good fit — meaning you like the organization, they like you, and
you like the work — volunteering can be an incredible experience.