My first experience volunteering was not born out of altruism. I had to complete volunteer hours for school. We were tasked with helping prepare and serve a meal at a men’s homeless shelter. The group of us was pretty nervous, not knowing what we could expect. What we got was appreciation, education, and a sense that we had done something very good. Of course, everyone volunteers for different reasons, but here are a few that are important to me.
Community: When you volunteer, you’re contributing a service not only to one particular facility, but also to the greater community at large. Most businesses that need volunteers are ones that provide public service, whether that is a food bank, a shelter, a farm, tutoring, etc. So a few hours of your time can have a big impact.
Meeting people: If you’re new to a city (like me!), volunteering is a pretty wonderful way to meet some great people (I feel pretty safe in saying most people who are volunteering are generally pretty friendly!). Even if you’ve lived in a place your whole life, volunteering is a good way to meet people with like-minded interests and maybe even expand your horizons a bit. Which leads me to my third point…
Learning: I’m always amazed at how much I learn from a few hours of volunteering. Volunteering at Hollygrove Market taught me about the New Orleans agricultural community. Volunteering with children’s programs gave me some insight into educational systems and how to work with children. Assisting at the PMAC after Hurricane Gustav taught me some valuable first aid tips. Helping out at the homeless shelter when I was 16 exposed me to a side of life I hadn’t seen before and helped me understand, just a little bit, about something beyond my limited worldview.
Ultimately, that’s what volunteering is about for me. It’s about doing something bigger than myself, about constantly reaching out and expanding my horizons and pushing myself to be a better person, both internally and to those around me…even if I don’t know them.
*picture from http://www.volunteerneworleans.com/ , check it out.