It’s the time of year where the end of year donation requests are pouring in, and every charity seems to be hosting an event or big end of year promotion. Giving Tuesday probably overtook your inbox last week like it did mine, and it can be overwhelming if you want to try to help others… and can’t attend every event or give money to every worthy organization you’d like to, especially not on top of holiday shopping and gift giving.
Today is International Volunteer Day, and it might be a good time to think about how you can give more than a gift this holiday season! Whether it’s volunteering your time for a day or two in the coming month, or making a commitment for the upcoming year—New Years resolution, anyone?—it’s a great time to think about the rewards of volunteering.
What does it mean to be a volunteer?
Simply, volunteering is defined as to “freely offer to do something”. In the context of International Volunteer Day, of course, it typically means doing a job of one type or another to give back to your community, without being financially compensated for the work that you do.
There are many different roles you can take on as a volunteer. I got into volunteering when I was in high school (actually, even younger than that), and it is something that has been a part of my life since. I have learned so much by connecting with people in my community who I would not necessarily have met had I not volunteered—I have helped paint kids’ faces at fundraiser races, run recreation activities at a seniors home, delivered water to patients in the hospital, stocked hospital vending machines, was a youth group leader at a church, took care of children during Sunday morning services, and have been on advisory committees and taken on various distance roles for non-profit organizations. Currently, I coach two teams of athletes with disabilities—Goalball for blind and visually impaired athletes, and a Special Olympics team for 7-13 year olds with intellectual disabilities, and am on the Board of Directors of a sport non-profit and involved in a few patient advocacy groups for people with asthma. I write this simply to share all of the options that are out there—and these are but a few things you can do as a volunteer, and help in your community.
No matter what your talent is… SOMEONE needs you! Or, you can learn a new skill to use when you are volunteering!
Volunteering can be challenging, rewarding, and fun—and if you find the right match, it is very worthwhile!
How can you become a volunteer?
Think about organizations in your community that may need help. Sports teams, charities, the Red Cross, hospitals, care homes, churches, daycares, and schools are all good places to start, or take a look for a local volunteerism organization—try Googling “volunteer” and your city, state/province/territory, for a place to start. Many organizations will require you to have background checks like a criminal record check. Sometimes these checks can cost money, so finding out exactly what is needed before you start is a good idea—sometimes, organizations will pay for the background checks to be done, or reimburse you after a certain amount of hours served.
Volunteering for health
Volunteering can help people stay connected to their communities, and make both the volunteer and the people being served healthier. Connected communities are healthier than disconnected ones! Some organizations will have a more direct influence on the health of their clients than others—for instance, a health nonprofit, a social group such as helping with recreation activities for older adults or people with disabilities, or a shelter/“soup kitchen”. There are many ways you can contribute to the health of your community through volunteering!
If you have a chronic illness and are a volunteer, it is a good idea to let your supervisor know, and to wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace.