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A Slice of the Pie: Volunteering – Where to start?

Last summer I did something that I previously thought my schedule would have never allowed – I spent 15 hours volunteering at my daughter’s theater camp. 

This statement may sound ordinary to some, especially those who already make time to volunteer on a regular basis, but for others – one out of four Americans, according to the Stanford Center on Longevity – finding 15 hours in a week to spend on something other than work or parenting can feel beyond impossible. 

It’s not that I don’t want to volunteer. I am very aware of how important volunteerism is and how good it can feel. I grew up attending the community Grange with my grandparents, 4-H meetings with my peers and a myriad of school clubs and activities with my classmates. But somewhere along the line things got… complicated. I got a job, I bought a house, I had three kids and money became synonymous with time. Suffice to say, if someone had asked me to volunteer 15 hours of my week two years ago, I would have said no. 

So, why did I do it? 

The short answer is, I had to. To attend the camp 15 hours of volunteer time by a parent is required – and for good reason. While making volunteerism mandatory can feel like a callous way to obtain volunteers, in some instances it might be the only way to truly obtain the workforce necessary to keep a volunteer-based organization afloat. 

At this point you may be saying to yourself; my organization gets the word out that we need volunteers. In fact, we’re shouting it from the proverbial rooftops all the time. 

To this I say, I believe you! As a journalist who meets with the heads of nonprofits on the regular basis I often hear tales of just how hard-pressed those groups are to find “new blood.”

But why is it hard? Ninety percent of Americans say they just don’t know where to start. I did a little research and found out that, in many cases potential volunteers are looking for these things:

• Organization – No one wants to show up to a workday only to discover there’s no one in charge, there are no tools or the work-site isn’t prepared. 

• To know exactly what the mission of an organization is. 

• Precise expectations.

• Opportunities that can be done at home or with children.

• To have their skill sets put to good use. 

• To be approached for help in-person.

• For the organization to be responsive and flexible to their individual needs.

• To be a part of a community.

• To have fun.

It’s a long list but it’s an important one and, upon looking at it, I can honestly say that my recent volunteer opportunity ticked every one of those boxes, especially – and most importantly – the last two. Because not only was the environment a fun one – with high energy and snacks – it made every single person there feel like a part of a community. 

Which may be why, to my surprise, I’m already looking forward to this summer. Not, this time, because I have to but because I want to. Because I can see what an important organization it is, how it helps an enormous group of kids find their place in the world. Because I already know exactly what I’ll be doing, what my place is and how I can help. But most of all because I feel like it’s my community now too. And, let’s face it, it’s a whole lot of fun. 

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