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Essay Volunteering Work

Guest post by Dylan Manderlink

This post should really be called: “How I learned more about my community and humanity once I stepped outside my college classroom.” You see, going to college in the heart of a city has an abundance of advantages, and many students are quick to take a big gulp of all the opportunities presented by the fast-paced, busy, and unique city landscape.

While internship opportunities, professional networking events for soon-to-be post grads, company hosted events at local restaurants and bars, and higher education possibilities are readily available and most likely taken advantage of by eager 20-somethings, taking time to volunteer at the many nonprofit social/environmental justice organizations, homeless shelters, advocacy centers, philanthropic fundraisers, local schools and child care facilities that complete the city of Boston are not always at the forefront of young people’s minds while navigating through their college experiences.

But, with a little push from student organizations, local nonprofits and passionate individuals, volunteerism and community change can start to take a front seat and become not just an opportunity, but also a priority in the lives of young people.

Volunteerism, civic engagement and advocacy are the driving forces for creating change and making a positive impact in your community and society at large. While gaining internship and job experience can lead to community impact and social change, it’s important for us to remember that before we start advocating for change and informing others about issues we care about, we need to fully understand the complexity and depth of the social, environmental, or economic issue we are passionate about.

Not only do we need to understand the ‘issue’ or ‘societal problem’ that many people face and are impacted by every day, but we need to meet and work alongside those whose daily realities are shaped by injustices, while not creating any divides or barriers in the process. Everyday people are affected by the issues that organizations fight for or against, and once we realize how people-centered things like advocacy, outreach and service are, I believe young people will realize their call to action and their potential in their local landscapes to really affect change.

My Experience

For example: Recently I had a very unique volunteer gig. A few times a semester I would take the Red Line to Quincy to volunteer at the Prison Book Program, where I would read letters from incarcerated individuals from all over the country and find 2-3 books that match their interests and reading criteria. Opening each letter and hearing people’s stories reminded me of the harsh realities of our world today, and the difficulty many people face in preserving their human dignity and self-worth.

Whether guilty of crimes or innocent, our incarceration system is an issue that many activists rally around in terms of its success and promise in correcting and rehabilitating criminal behavior. So, to read letters and hear the voices of those who are living on the marginalized edges of our society, but who rarely have a voice in the issue that’s being nationally rallied around, is an uncommon circumstance that should be noted and have more attention and action drawn to. Their desire to educate themselves within the confines of a prison wall is real and heard by those of us who take time to spend their weekday evenings in the bottom of a church basement, sorting through donated books, and reading literary wish-lists of those who are incarcerated.

Another meaningful experience that sticks out to me is when I regularly volunteered at a children’s homeless shelter in Roxbury, Mass. for two years, and was reminded of the fact that the statistics we hear every day about homelessness are real people – not just numbers. Every child I played alongside, made a puzzle with, and created art work for, reminded me that the largest percentage of people who are homeless is in fact, not the men people see on the street who are waiting in line for the soup kitchen, but families: Mothers, children of all ages, infants, and fathers.

I was reminded that every human and every family deserves a place to call a home, a place to grow up, and a place to feel safe and comfortable. Helping the shelter to provide an afternoon of safety, comfort, respect, and joy for children who don’t have a home or much stability was a small but meaningful contribution to a much greater familial and societal obstacle.

What I Learned

I learned from my volunteer experiences in Boston that people are not powerless; in fact, we have a great deal of power and potential, despite sometimes being told we may not have any because of the zip code we were born in, economic status, family life, sexual orientation, or employment status. Through the volunteering I made as a priority and a cornerstone of my life in college, I learned how empowering it is to realize how much agency you have in your own life and how beautiful it is to share that with others in hopes of them discovering it themselves.

I learned how giving human beings are, even when they don’t have much to give. I learned how one of the biggest equalizers of our society is storytelling and the sharing of self. We open countless doors of understanding, compassion, education, and empathy when we let the chaos and speed of the cityscape subside, and take time to actively listen and communicate with our community members. Our community is a diverse fabric of human beings, and we all have a voice in enacting change, improving the lives of our neighbors, and promoting a more just and verdant world.

I learned that local nonprofit organizations have the potential to amplify their outreach to colleges, and young people in general, through matching passions with skills. You as organizations need to purposefully identify for us why promoting service and civic engagement is not only important, but necessary if we want to improve our lives, the lives of others, and the dilemmas and misfortunes our world faces every day.

The relationship between young people and nonprofits can be the start of a significant change in our community, and should be a reciprocal and powerful educational experience. An open-minded and encouraging flow of communication between organizations and community members can be the launchpad for the social and environmental change organizations talk about and try for every day. Together, we can make change – not just a semblance of idealism, but reality, as well.

How does your organization engage with college students and young adults? Share what you’ve learned in the comments!

Dylan Manderlink is a recent graduate of Emerson College in Boston, Mass., who with a self-designed major, Investigative Theatre for Social Change. She is now a Teach for America corps member, teaching high school in rural Arkansas. She is passionate about working in the nonprofit sector and providing educational opportunities for students to creatively inform themselves and others about social justice, community change and human rights.

Tags:community service, millennial volunteering, volunteer engagement, youth volunteering

About The Author

Shari Tishman

Shari led Online Marketing and Communications at VolunteerMatch from 2010-2015. After working with nonprofits for 9 years, she moved over to the corporate sector and is now leading Inbound Marketing for a tech company in San Francisco.

In our modern, capitalistic world, the idea of doing something for free might sound strange. Western society has oriented itself on success and profit, people possessing honed professional skills, and being able to “sell” these skills; therefore, the idea of working for free does not fit into such an outlook. However, it strongly depends on how you look at it; for instance, volunteering, which has become popular in recent decades, is one of the greatest examples of how a job can pay off not with just money. It can be said that everyone should at least once in their lifetime try volunteering due to a number of reasons.

Although it may sound paradoxical, volunteering is one of the easiest ways to find a job. After graduating from a college or university, many get stuck in the situation of trying to find a job, but needing working experience, you cannot obtain working experience because no one hires you. Statistics show about 73% of employers would prefer to hire a person with volunteering experience in the field than a person without one; 94% of employers share the belief that volunteering helps potential employees obtain new skills and diversifies their qualification, and thus are more prone to hiring people who volunteer. Respectively, 94% of those people believe volunteering can add to one’s skills; 94% of people who were hired after a volunteering experience say such an experience aided them in getting their first job, or benefited them in other ways, such as quicker promotion, salary increases, or obtaining new skills (World Volunteer Web). Having relevant work experience obtained during volunteering and specifying it in your CV can be a kickstarter for your career, because nowadays more and more employers tend to count volunteering as actual work experience (ReachOut.com). Besides, volunteering is a great option to explore possible career opportunities if you are unsure what you would like be doing for living. Through various programs, you can try yourself in a number of organizations, working on different problems, and in different positions, without having to do job-hunting, and then job-hopping. Therefore, if you still think you do not have time to volunteer because you need to look for a job, or because volunteering could be a nuisance to your duties, you might want to reconsider your opinion.

Also, volunteering is a natural way of socialization and getting to know your surroundings, meeting new people, and finding useful contacts. Regularly meeting with a group of people who share the same activities, way of thinking, and goals can make it easier for you to make friends. Besides, volunteering could make a great example for your children; if you want to teach them responsibility, compassion, and how one person can make a difference by personally participating in solving it, you should volunteer; children tend to learn through observing what adults do, and by your example, they will have a great role model to adopt. And, of course, through volunteering, you can find a lot of useful contacts, resources, and activities for your whole family (HelpGuide).

There have been surprising research studies connecting helping other people on a voluntary basis with mental health; specifically, people who are known to be involved into different forms of selflessly helping other people, animals, and so on, felt like they were undergoing some sort of beneficial therapy. In particular, according to CSV, millions of people in the United Kingdom doing voluntary work started to feel less depressed; about 48% of those who have been involved in volunteering during the last two years felt relief in terms of depression, and improvement of their mental condition. Among more than 600 volunteers who were observed during the experiment, 63% of people aged between 25 and 34 said that volunteering reduced their stress levels—so did about 62% of volunteers over 65 years old. According to CSV’s research, volunteering also helps reduce work-related stress, and even boosts productivity: 31% of people aged between 18 and 24 said they had taken less time off work since starting to volunteer (The Guardian).

All these facts demonstrate that volunteering is a great alternative to a number of other activities, since it can help you acquire work experience and get a job; makes you more sociable, and turns you into a good role model for your children; and besides, it decreases the levels of stress we are exposed to on a daily basis, and helps people effectively combat depression. Therefore, you might want to start volunteering as soon as possible.

Works Cited

  1. “Benefits of Volunteering.” World Volunteer Web. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.
  2. Segal, Jeanne, and Lawrence Robinson. “Volunteering and Its Surprising Benefits: How Volunteering Makes Us Healthier and Happier.” HelpGuide.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.
  3. “6 Reasons Why Volunteering is Good for You.” ReachOut.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.
  4. “Volunteering Linked to Fall in Depression.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 28 Sept. 2004. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.
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