Is it just me or is it super hard to find legit volunteer opportunities? Before I became a social work student I was always looking for ways to improve my community that would actually impact people’s lives for the better, but it felt like most organizations either didn’t need volunteers or provided space in their organization for volunteers who didn’t really do very much besides feel good about themselves for being there.
Because I’m interested in working directly with people in a one-on-one setting, I was also uninterested in office volunteering, where I’d be filing papers or sending thank-you letters to donors. These roles are incredibly important and I don’t mean to minimize them. I was just eager to find a position that let me work directly alongside the people benefitting from the organization.
After much searching, I eventually found these three kinds of volunteering opportunities that kick butt. They actually make a difference in people’s lives and allow you to interact with the people the program benefits. Wins all around!
Become an Advocate at an organization for sexual assault survivors or battered persons.
When I was in college I realized that I could volunteer as an Advocate at the Center for Sexual Assault Survivors, and it was one of my better decisions. The Center had a 24-hour hotline survivors and their loved ones could call, and I was tasked with manning it after an extensive 42-hour training. I was also equipped to meet survivors at the hospital to hold their hand, make sure they were taken care of by the nurses and any police officers who came by, and walk them through the process of getting a rape kit done if they wanted to. The hotline linked up to my personal cell phone, so whenever I was on call I could go about my daily (or nightly) activities as long as I kept my ringtone loud and stayed within a reasonable distance of the hospital. It was one of the more rewarding things I did in college and I’m so glad I had that experience. Other kinds of Advocates are trained to go to court with sexual or physical assault survivors as they prosecute their attackers. Truly, Advocates make a huge difference in people’s lives. There’s bound to be a shelter or service in most areas offering Advocacy positions.
Visit a home-bound elderly person who needs a friend.
I believed so passionately that older adults, especially those that are home-bound, are so overlooked in American society. When I worked as a social work intern alongside elderly Holocaust survivors, I had so many clients who could have benefitted from a friendly visitor, or a person who came to see them every other week to chat about whatever was on their mind. The problem was that there were not enough visitors to meet the demand of older adults. Many older adults have absolutely nobody that comes to see them, and if they are stuck in their homes due to mobility issues or other disabilities, they are essentially unable to interact with anyone at all. Human contact is part of what keeps us living happy, fulfilled lives, and I believe the mental health of many older adults would benefit greatly if more people offered their time to visit them. Consider volunteering your time with the elderly – they need you.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
This organization has been on my radar for a long time and one day I plan to volunteer with them. Big Brothers Big Sisters matches volunteers with children, and through their relationship the child is given the opportunity to see beyond his or her everyday world and dream big. These relationships are proven to have lasting positive results in the lives of the children involved. I believe they ask for a long-term commitment from volunteers, but the impact is totally worth it.
Anything else I’m missing from this list that I should add? What’s your favorite way to volunteer your time in an awesome way?