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Katie Bratsch
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Volunteering: What's in It for You?

July-August, 2008

There's more to life than making money. There's spending it, saving it, worrying about it, counting it, cursing it, losing it... And, then there's doing something in spite of it, like volunteering for a few hours each month, sharing your time and skills with someone in need. That's a generous and compassionate thing to do, and it could benefit you in unexpected ways. You might make a friend or learn a new skill, which could ultimately help you take your life in a new direction.

Volunteering is not just for the wealthy, retired, bored and job-prospecting. It's also for the adventurous, community-building, earth-conscious and creative. The opportunities for learning and the possibilities of where you take that knowledge are endless.

I learned how to teach this year while volunteering at a junior high school in North Minneapolis. I've been studying and practicing yoga for several years, but the connections didn't start to spark for me until I was put in the position of explaining yoga poses and techniques to a gym full of teenage girls.

The very first question one of the girls asked me was, "Can you float? Because, I've heard that people who do yoga can float." I was completely charmed, and I answered, "No, I can't float yet, but maybe you will be able to."

I wasn't just fanning this girl's enthusiasm. There is a technique in yoga called "floating," and I've witnessed a master yogi float in the air for a few seconds while doing all kinds of crazy twists and balances with his body. I use this as an example, because I've learned to do things in yoga that I thought I would never be able to do. Likewise, I'm now teaching my own yoga class at a studio, which I'd previously thought was a pretty far-fetched idea. Volunteering helped me achieve this.

Fostering and maintaining connections through volunteer work is an excellent way to get your foot in the door doing something that you love, or at the very least, seeing how others do it while you assist and learn about process and technique.

Volunteering is a great way to learn how to do something that seems unattainable. It can open you to new and beautiful experiences, and challenge you to grow, personally and professionally. Think about the things that you really care about, you're probably already doing something that relates in some form or fashion. Doing what you love as a volunteer is a bold step, and it's action-oriented. You'll have an experience, which is infinitely better than a dream.

Here are a few ideas on how to get started.

  1. Explore what your motives are for being a volunteer. What skills do you currently have to offer? Don't limit this to just the things you'd list on a resume or job application. Include all of your varied talents, whether you've acquired them on the job or in your free time.
  1. Ask yourself what you'd like to learn and gain from volunteering. Again, don't fence yourself in. Let your imagination roam a little, because volunteering can be a great laboratory for trying out new talents or revisiting old passions.
  1. Research organizations and decide where you want to volunteer. Think about how much time you are willing to give, when you'll be able to do it and how you will get there. This will help you to pinpoint if you want the location to be close to home, work or other places you frequent on evenings or weekends.
  1. Consider volunteering at:

    • schools and other education organizations
    • museums, galleries, guilds and art crawls
    • radio and television stations
    • theaters, concert halls and performance venues
    • parks, recreation centers and historic sites
    • nonprofit foundations
    • hospitals, shelters and other social service providers
    • literary arts organizations, libraries and literacy centers
    • festivals and celebrations of all kinds
  1. Talk to people who already volunteer or work at places you're considering. You might ask to attend an event with someone or tag along when they do their own volunteer work.
  1. Search the Internet. Look for descriptions of volunteer opportunities, contact information, application guidelines and downloadable forms. If you need more information about an organization, call or email them and ask to talk to a staff member or volunteer.
  1. Reap the benefits of volunteerism, which include:

    • making a difference in your community
    • meeting other volunteers and making social connections
    • building your network of professional connections
    • learning new skills that you can list on your resume
    • enjoying the perks, such as free admission to events
For nationwide listings of volunteer opportunities, see:

One Brick

Get out there and soak up the amazing experiences that await you in the world of volunteering. Meet some people, see new things, nurture yourself, create beauty, spread compassion and find the freedom to do something that you love.

About the Writer

Katie Bratsch is a freelance writer, yoga instructor and frequent volunteer living in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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