Volunteer Service: A Pathway to Your Purpose
There’s an intrinsic desire in all of us to be part of something bigger than ourselves. One of the best ways to do that is to be a volunteer. Growing up, service was seamlessly integrated into my life by my parents. Being of service to others and involved in my community, are core values that I’m lucky were passed down on both sides of my family.
We all have a civic responsibility to take care of the world around us. Because of the systems in place, and the unequal distribution of and access to resources, not everyone has the available time, financial ability, or energy to volunteer in a traditional way.
Volunteer experiences opened my worldview and following college graduation, it was a natural fit to serve for a year as a member of AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) at Center For Family Services. VISTA helped me to confront the reality that opportunities to serve aren’t universally accessible.
If we lived in a truly equitable society, the need to volunteer wouldn’t exist. Imagine it. There would adequate, safe housing for all; no need to haul you hammer to Habitat for Humanity. Everyone would have access to nutritious foods; food drives would be a thing of the past. Corporations would be restricted from dumping waste into drinking water; your annual river clean up could instead be a day to bask in the breeze.
But America has a long way to go to even get close to that vision. And so, we must use our time and what we uniquely have to offer to make our country more livable for everyone around us.
Muhammad Ali said it best: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room on earth.” I volunteer because I believe it is my duty and part of my purpose.
It’s a privilege to have had my parents show me the way, and that they had the time to give. I recognize this is not true for everyone. But service doesn’t need to be formal or structured to be impactful. It doesn’t even need to be consistent, just intentional.
At Center For Family Services, we view volunteering as an opportunity for everyone. Whether your schedule allows you to volunteer once a year, or once a month, we have an option for you. If you don’t mind taking a drive, or if you prefer to serve from home, there’s plenty you can do.
So you want to be the best volunteer you can be. Where to begin?
Start by thinking about what you have to offer, whether that’s a hobby, or talent, or something that lights you up from the inside out. Be clear with how much of your time you’re able to give. Be intentional about the role you want to play, and the type of cause to which you want to devote yourself.
As someone whose been in the role of a volunteer coordinator and a volunteer, my must-haves for a great volunteer are:
- A positive and receptive attitude
- Listening to understand (not necessarily to respond)
- Willingness to learn
- Letting go of preconceived ideas about what people need, and how things should go
- Understanding of your time and your boundaries
- An open heart, open mind, and open ears
Openness will take you far, and will help you earn the trust of those with whom you’re serving and those you’re intending to help. Our best volunteers are up for anything, know what they can give, ask questions, and take direction well. These qualities help you to understand how things work, the best ways to help, and in time, how your specific knowledge and talents can enhance what you offer to a volunteer program.
If you want to volunteer:
- Once a year – Be a team captain for the Empower Run & Walk
- Once a week – Lead playtime at Mother Child
- Once or twice a month – Become a mentor
- Long term – Serve with AmeriCorps
- With your children – Start a neighborhood-wide backpack drive
- With your coworkers – Host a collection and packing day for Healing Kits
- By yourself (that’s cool too) - Pack a Birthday Box for a child in our safe homes, promote a cause or fundraise via social media
What if you’re volunteering to learn a skill, enhance your mental health, or meet new people?
Do you enjoy meeting new people? Become a greeter at our Family Success Centers.
Want to learn more about eliminating hunger? Help out at Hope Mobile. Are you an aspiring horticulturalist or just need some time outdoors? Volunteer for a day of tree planting your local park. Do you find sorting and organizing to be meditative? Volunteer to host a collection and pack items in our Recovery Kits. Are you feeling angry about voter suppression laws? Join a phone banking event, or letter writing campaign to your elected officials.
Volunteering isn’t one size fits all, and there truly is a place for everyone.
Who do we become when we volunteer?
Volunteering at its core is a mutually beneficial act. When we volunteer, we’re motivated by a few different factors. We want to make the world a better place. We want to touch a life. We want to feel good about how we spend our time. We want to be recognized for making an impact. We want to help someone, like we were once helped. We want to leave something behind that tips the scale toward optimism and increases opportunities for others.
Which of these do you relate to? What is your intention when you volunteer?
Self-motivation is okay, it’s human. The intention to develop new skills does not negate your desire to improve the conditions of your neighbors.
For young people it may be a pathway to a career. For families, it may be a way to expand horizons. For retired folks, it may be a way to stay social. Volunteering provides many ways to try new things, make a friend, and seek your purpose through service.
Volunteering gives us the chance to explore parts of ourselves that otherwise, may be left as untapped potential. You may become a steward to the earth. A child’s trusted mentor. A painter. A compassionate listener. A teacher.
Volunteering, gives you a chance to talk with others who are motivated by the desire to help, and individuals who may not share the same lived experiences but with whom there is so much common ground.
You may become an advocate for a cause that touches your heart. You will become more empathetic to others whose lives don’t look exactly like yours. You become more informed, with real-world examples of not just problems but also potential solutions. Solutions that you’re a part of.
When you talk about volunteering, you educate others. Service opens your mind to more information that you then pass along. You never know who it may reach.
Your service may spark altruism in others. On a walk in my neighborhood one morning during the pandemic-springtime, I met an older gentleman, and his senior dog as they picked up trash around a community center. No one was coming to the center while its doors were shuttered and the pool was empty. But knowing there were kids in the area, and people craving the peace of an afternoon walk, he wanted to be sure the neighborhood was clean and safe. At a time when we were all distancing, watching the world shift out from under us, I really needed that. A quick conversation, pleasant exchange, and an affirmation that others care deeply about where they live.
One man, deciding to spend his morning in this way improved the view, the safety of kids playing nearby, and the wellness of a neighbor’s pet with a tendency to eat sidewalk goodies. Sure, he was getting his exercise and fresh air too. But it was the one step more that he took to ensure his actions had meaning beyond just helping himself. Service sends a message, whether it’s witnessed or not.
Go volunteer and explore this wonderful opportunity!
Being a person who contributes positively to your community is very opened ended. And it doesn’t take a ton of effort, typically you get to decide! Explore your local opportunities on Volunteer Match, through the NJ Governor’s Office on volunteerism, on our website, or through your local Volunteer Center.
There are causes and people in need of help that are specifically looking for what YOU have to offer. And along the way, you might learn something about yourself, become an advocate, meet a person you’re meant to know, or even find your purpose.