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Volunteering: What's in It for You?
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Consider volunteering at:
• schools and other education organizations
• museums, galleries, guilds and art crawls
• radio and television
• theaters, concert halls and performance venues
recreation centers and historic sites
• nonprofit foundations
• hospitals, shelters and other social service providers
arts organizations, libraries and literacy centers
and celebrations of all kinds
- 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.
- 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.
For nationwide listings of volunteer opportunities, see:
- Reap the benefits
of volunteerism, which include:
• making a difference in
• 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
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,