Almost everyone would agree that serving as a volunteer is a great way to give of yourself while gaining valuable experience. Fortunately, no single path must be followed to get involved in volunteering during high school and college. Here are a few easy ways that students can start giving back right now.
Find local groups
Perhaps the simplest approach is to contact a local organization and ask if there’s a need for volunteers. If you don’t already have a specific target in mind, do a little homework and identify possible nonprofits you connect with. A great place to start is the nearest United Way affiliate, since its purpose is to represent a variety of organizations. Other possibilities include community foundations and centers for volunteerism operated by colleges and universities.
Ask for suggestions
“There is a myriad of ways for students to get involved in service,” says Josh Ambrose, Executive Director of the Center for Experience and Opportunity at McDaniel College. “Ask your teacher, your neighbor, your spiritual leader, your friends—the opportunities are out there.” In Ambrose’s community, local options include literacy initiatives, youth programs, medical and hospice care, support for the homeless, and helping with tech nonprofits. The word-of-mouth approach has much value; if you have friends or relatives who regularly volunteer, ask about their experiences and consider any advice they might offer. The same goes for working professionals in your interest areas.
You can also take advantage of online resources that provide details on volunteer opportunities. For example, JustServe.org identifies the volunteer needs of organizations, and you can search for places to serve in the community. Similarly, All for Good functions as a digital hub for volunteerism and community engagement. It shares info from a number of other sites on a wide range of volunteer opportunities. The same is true of VolunteerMatch, which serves 120,000 participating nonprofits while offering listings of interest to prospective volunteers. The federal government also operates its own portal where you can identify volunteer roles across the country, or focus your search on individual states or within 30 miles of your search ZIP code.
Consider why you want to volunteer
“A key part of the process is looking inward,” says Benjamin Caldarelli, founder of Benjamin College Consulting. He advises asking a few basic questions: Why do I want to volunteer? What can I offer? What do I feel strongly about? What am I curious to learn more about? “There are a lot of ways to contribute to society, but volunteering is part of being an engaged citizen and learner,” he says. Like Ambrose, he suggests volunteering locally even if you’re concerned with national or international issues.“Meaningful service doesn’t necessarily mean going far from home,” Caldarelli says. “The dictum ‘think global, act local’ is a good place to start.”
Advice for new volunteers
Keep in mind, volunteering doesn’t always have to be a long-term commitment. Some roles only last a single day or weekend, and even where longer-term service is preferred, you can often do a trial run or commit only for the length of a specific project. For example, with Habitat for Humanity you might help with painting interior walls on a single Saturday, or you could work one day a week for several weeks to help complete an entire house. Maybe that’s where your involvement stops, or you might continue pitching in with a new construction project. If you find that a given volunteer activity isn’t what you expected, that’s okay. While it’s important to complete any work you have agreed to, after that point you can always part ways with any organization. Ideally that won’t be the end of your volunteer experience, and you will go on to volunteer in a different way and for other organizations.
Once you settle on one or more volunteer roles, keep a record of your experiences. Track your dates served, the names of the sponsoring organization, your duties performed, and the contact info for your supervisor and the organization itself. That way you’ll have the necessary information at hand for résumés, job applications, college applications, or scholarships in the future. After all, the most important reason to volunteer is to support worthwhile causes, but don’t overlook the potential to strengthen your own personal profile as well. When you pursue the right volunteer opportunities, everyone wins!
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