Thursday, January 31, 2019

The many benefits of volunteer work

By now, you're familiar with the concept of volunteer work. Perhaps you've already done volunteer work of some kind, or are currently doing it. And at your age, you have very little, if any, paid work experience to put on your resume and job applications, so things like volunteer service, co-curricular activities such as sports and clubs, and student leadership positions are going to comprise the bulk of your resume.

Volunteer work can provide a wealth of opportunities for learning new skills, strengthening skills, making meaningful connections through networking, gaining new perspectives, sharing talents, and making a difference in the lives of others.

I've been volunteering my time and expertise for a number of organizations and causes over the years, and I find great satisfaction in doing so. Whether through community service clubs like Lions, Rotary, and Kiwanis; as a board member of two chambers of commerce; as a member of two local government boards; or as a member of a committee that runs a large weekend-long festival every summer in my hometown, Muskego Fest, I've met so many talented and wonderful people, and I've learned so much, and continue to learn and meet great people.

I've also found that my volunteer work really goes hand-in-hand with the work I do for pay. I look at it like a continuous cycle, where everything comes back around full-circle - my volunteer work enhances my abilities for other volunteer work; my volunteer work enhances my abilities for my paid work; and my paid work enhances my abilities for my volunteer work. See, all too often, to get a little philosophical here for a moment, we tend to distinguish between volunteer work and paid work, or between personal development and professional development, as if they're all separate and disconnected from one another. In the end, however, we each possess just one mind, and it's a single, fully-unified unit. It's very vast and complex, but it's all connected through countless bridges, roads, and tunnels. In terms of the mind, work is work. Experience is experience. Learning is learning. Skills and talents are skills and talents. You get the point. There's definitely an interdependence between volunteer and paid work, where all of this learning and skill development is easily transferable to other jobs and situations. End of philosophical moment.

Areas where I've developed and reinforced skills over the years through a plethora of volunteer work and projects include leadership, negotiation, marketing, event planning and management, fundraising, customer service, strategic planning, basic accounting and bookkeeping, idea generation, presentations, and public relations and communications. 

So, we know that volunteer work is great for your resume, for preparing for the workforce, and for continuing to build and strengthen your talents throughout your life while meeting awesome people and making a difference in your community and beyond. Many scholarship and college admission applications are looking for meaningful volunteering experiences, as well. But you're asking, "Where do I start?"

Well, for starters, ask yourself what you'd like to get out of it. And really give this some thought. Put it on paper so that you have something concrete to look at, reflect on, and refine as needed. And then, go out and seek those opportunities.

Ideally, when it comes to paid work, we all want to do something that's meaningful and engaging to us, right? Something that's enjoyable for us and gives us a feeling that we're making a difference. Now sure, we all take or have taken paid jobs not living up to that ideal out of necessity at times, let's be realistic. But you get the picture. Well, the same goes with volunteer work. We want it to be meaningful for us. Something that's of interest to us and enjoyable. Something that can complement and enhance our professional and career goals. We know the work won't always be easy, but in the end, we know we're learning and growing while sharing our gifts with others and making key contacts.

So start by asking yourself what you'd like to get out of it. Here are some example scenarios to get you thinking about your own goals:

Let's say you'd like to eventually become a veterinarian. You're taking as many science courses as you can right now at the high school level. You're exploring college programs for veterinarian science. Are there any animal shelters or kennels in your area that you can volunteer for? How about a local veterinarian clinic? Or, let's say you're wanting to become a nurse or doctor. You're taking those science classes and exploring your college options. Any clinics or hospitals you can volunteer at?

You love sports. Can't get enough. You're thinking about sports management or sports marketing as a career. You're loading up on any relevant business courses you can fit into your schedule. Maybe you're taking a few English electives to augment the business classes because creative messaging, writing, and the overall ability to communicate effectively to an audience will be key. Are there any volunteer opportunities with your school's teams or athletic department? How about any local professional or minor league teams? Your community's parks and recreation department?

The trades are your thing. Maybe you're still figuring out which trade you'd really like to pursue. You're taking a variety of shop classes. Learning math. Any volunteer opportunities with Habitat for Humanity? How about your local National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) chapter? Any contractors in your area looking for help? Maybe they can help open the door to paid apprenticeships and give you some additional guidance on courses to take at your local technical college?

You're thinking about a career in law enforcement. Joining your local police explorers program is a great way to get involved in community service, network, learn about the profession, and figure out if this is a career you'd really like to pursue. In my hometown of Muskego, our Explorers regularly assist other community service clubs with projects and events around town, and we're grateful for their help! Call your local police department to see if there's an explorers program in your community and how you can get involved.

Business is your passion. You're stocking up on as many business courses as you can. Maybe you have one or more entrepreneurial ventures going for you, like your own lawn mowing or car detailing business. Perhaps you're involved in DECA, FBLA, or a similar club at your school. You're exploring business and management programs at the college level. How about calling your local chamber of commerce to see if they're in need of any volunteers? If the chamber is not in need of any volunteers itself, perhaps it can put you in touch with any of its member businesses and organizations that are looking for help? 

These are just a few basic examples out of an endless number of possibilities to get you thinking and exploring. You may find this article from U.S. News & World Report, Find Career-Focused Volunteer Opportunities in High School, helpful, as well.

Best of luck!

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