Volunteering. Community service. Giving back. Whatever you want to call it, is basically the act of spending your time helping out with a project or activity and not being paid for your time. While I always volunteered through the 4-H program growing up, it wasn’t until I began my professional career that I started seriously thinking about volunteering projects. I became involved in a few different areas, putting in a few hours a week and was surprised to find out some valuable lessons. These three points changed the way that I think and act every day.
1. I’m Not That Important
I entered into a community-based project where we painted the pavement in order to slow down traffic and make it safe for kids to walk to school every day. Here I was, coming in on my white horse, ready to save the impoverished neighborhood. This was my initial thought, I’m sorry to say. But, as I worked with a group of people from the neighborhood and my organization, I began realizing that I really wasn’t that big of a deal. Yes, this was an impoverished area and they would benefit from the project at hand, but we were making one small change. Would it make a difference? Probably and it was worth doing, but the area still had problems and our work was very small in the large scope of things. I wasn’t doing anything these people couldn’t do on their own. At most, I helped to speed up the project, but that was about it.
2. Lasting Change Takes Commitment
I used to be a little flighty in my volunteer projects. I would spend a few hours at a soup kitchen, then volunteer at an animal shelter the next week and move from project to project whenever I felt like a change. However, one of the supervisors at a group home where I volunteered mentioned that their project needed consistent volunteers. She said it was too hard to constantly schedule new people and a fixed schedule worked best for them. I began realizing that if I wanted to work towards improvement at any of these areas, I would have to be willing to commit to them.
It’s easy to think that non-paid work means that you don’t need to commit to it, but this is a huge problem. Many organizations don’t like having volunteers because they tend to not show up when it’s not convenient. But, because of my experience with the group home, I decided how much time I could commit every week and chose a single project. With that organization, I’ve taken the time to understand its goals and needs, giving them more value from my time. Also, I treat my schedule there seriously, giving it the same priority as a paid position.
3. My Skills Should Match The Project
While I’ve volunteered in places serving meals, cleaning, or doing any other basic tasks, the best experiences that I’ve had were where I was able to use my skills and talents. As a health expert, I’ve worked with community groups and homeless shelters, helping to provide nutrition education, teach cooking classes, and be a valuable resource. While many of my tasks are not glamorous, being able to use my skills makes me valuable to these community members. Whenever possible, I look for organizations that need volunteers with my credentials. Not only is this valuable for them, it also ends up being a great personal experience.
Be Open Every Day
These have been valuable lessons that I’ve learned through volunteering, but the basic underlying lesson that is imparted to me every day is the importance of always being open. When I approach these experiences from a place of humbleness and wanting to experience and be useful, my work is much more valuable, and I also learn a great deal. Use my experiences to make your own volunteering time a wonderful experience.