Volunteering — Benefits, Tips, and Opportunities

Volunteering is a great way to connect with neighbors and contribute to the well-being of the wider community. There are also significant personal benefits to volunteering. It is an excellent way to meet like-minded people and get to know other community members. Volunteering can also help build job skills and knowledge, especially for people with little work experience or who are interested in changing careers. Some parents even complete community service with their children as a way to instill in them a sense of duty and develop a closer bond. Whatever the reason for engaging in community service, there are a myriad of ways people can give back and make a noticeable difference in the lives of others.

Before committing to a volunteer opportunity, individuals should have a clear idea of the type of organization they would like to work with and the amount of time they are able to devote to community service. Most people volunteer with organizations that tackle issues that they have a strong passion for. Others donate their time to organizations where their education or work experience can be useful. Some of the most common volunteer positions are with nonprofit organizations such as food banks, homeless shelters, and animal rescue groups. However, there are also public and private entities that welcome volunteers, such as hospitals, zoos, libraries, and museums. Municipalities and other organizations may also need volunteers to carry out work for special events, such as fundraising marathons or neighborhood clean-up sessions.

People with a background in education can offer free tutoring at afterschool programs, while legal professionals can offer pro bono services for organizations serving undocumented immigrants or people escaping domestic violence. If one wishes to combine volunteering with travel or education, there are opportunities to volunteer overseas. These programs should be vetted carefully to ensure that the program’s design doesn’t disrupt the economy or social fabric of the local community.

There are also volunteering websites that allow users to browse through hundreds of local volunteering opportunities. When inquiring about community service options, it is important to ask questions about what the organization expects from its volunteers. Some volunteering opportunities are flexible, temporary, or on-call, while others rely on their volunteers to set several hours aside every week.

Most organizations screen their volunteers to ensure they are a good fit. Generally, the more critical the volunteering position is to the functioning of the organization, the more thorough the vetting process will be. Some types of volunteering, such as working with children or the elderly, may require a background check. During the registration process, applicants may be asked to fill out a form to provide their personal information, any relevant skills or training, and references.

This process may be followed up with an interview and a shadowing period where they work alongside more experienced volunteers. Doing community service is important work, but it should also feel fun and energizing. If after the onboarding process it turns out the volunteer position isn’t a good fit, individuals are encouraged to talk to the group to see if there may be a more suitable role. It is also fine to look for a position in a different type of organization.

Living in Fresno, California, Kynia Thrower most recently worked as a care provider and health aide with locally based In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS).