A lifelong goal of mine is to always have some type of volunteer activity in my life. There are no requirements for how many hours or how often I should volunteer, only that I seek volunteer opportunities with causes or organizations that are important to me. So it may be once a week or just a couple times a year, depending on how busy life is.
Sometimes the world we live in can seem like a pretty dark place (economic recession, wars, natural disasters, climate change…and on and on). Volunteering lets me take action to make the world a better place, even if it’s just a few hours and even if it's spent on a seemingly small task. I truly believe that every little bit helps. It’s also great to connect with other people who care and are also trying to bring (more) goodness into the world. It helps me to see that maybe it’s not such a dark place after all.
Another benefit of volunteering is that it’s also a great way to learn new skills and to network outside of your job. It’s a win-win. This is something I learned first-hand over the past 2 years as I’ve volunteered with Audubon Arizona on a monthly basis at their nature center in south Phoenix. After I applied for a job as an environmental educator with the organization, and wasn’t offered a position, I became a monthly volunteer. It not only gave me an opportunity with an organization that I was genuinely interested in, but also helped me gain the exact skills that would look great on my resume if I were to apply for another job there.
Since I’ve been volunteering with Audubon I’ve been asked to apply for two different positions with the organization. As it happened, I had recently taken another job (my current job) and wanted to commit to that. There’s certainly no guarantee I would have been offered the positions if I’d applied, but I would definitely have had an advantage since the staff knew me as a dependable volunteer who is familiar with the activities of the organization. As I think about possibly changing my job or career path, I've been thinking about finding volunteer opportunities that would help me to decide - before making the leap - if teaching would be a good fit.
But volunteering doesn't have to fall within your professional field. It’s actually a great way to try something completely new. If you spend all day with computers and spreadsheets you might want to volunteer doing something outside or related to the arts. If you work in the arts, maybe volunteer activities with computers and spreadsheets sounds exciting! Or maybe you love spreadsheets so much that you want to commit to them in your full time job AND in your spare time. Who am I to judge?
For me, the key to being, and staying, an active volunteer is to be honest with myself about the time commitment that I can handle. Currently I volunteer one 4-hour Saturday shift at the Audubon Center per month and that feels about right. I also write a quarterly newsletter for my neighborhood. Although I wish I could commit more time I thought about how quickly my free time turns to busy-ness. Having time on the weekends to just be with Chris and to relax without other commitments is so dear to me; I have to remember not to schedule it all away!