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I do volunteer work every weekend at a local animal shelter. A couple of weeks ago, a woman came into the room where I was brushing one of the cats and, in trying to distinguish between the full-time staff of the shelter and the volunteers, asked me, "Are you just a volunteer?"  I knew she didn't mean to diminish my role at the shelter by referring to me as "just" a volunteer. She was simply trying to find someone on the staff and couldn't tell by my shelter t-shirt if I was someone with the authority to help her out. The fact is, I've often heard volunteers refer to themselves as "just a volunteer" when someone mistakes them for paid staff.

If you spoke with our shelter manager, she would tell you that our animal shelter would not be able to function and care for the multitude of dogs and cats and other pets it takes in every year if it were not for the hundreds of dedicated volunteers who work there. The same can be said about most hospitals, schools, libraries, food pantries, soup kitchens, help lines, nursing homes, and political campaigns.

This week - April 10-16, 2011 - is the 37th National Volunteer Week. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service:

National Volunteer Week is about inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage in their communities. It’s about demonstrating to the nation that by working together, in unison, we have the fortitude to meet our challenges and accomplish our goals. National Volunteer Week is about taking action, encouraging individuals and their respective communities to be at the center of social change—discovering and actively demonstrating their collective power to foster positive transformation.

Do you currently volunteer or have you volunteered recently? Would you be interested in writing a diary based on your personal observations and involvement to educate others about your volunteer experience?

In his presidential proclamation this year,  President Obama said:

Last year, nearly 63 million Americans gave of themselves through service. Their compassion is a testament to the generosity of the American spirit. In difficult times, Americans are coming together -- tackling our challenges instead of ignoring them -- and renewing the principle that we are our brother's keeper and our sister's keeper.

Today, as many Americans face hardship, we need volunteers more than ever. Service opportunities tap the energy and ingenuity of our greatest resource -- the American people -- to improve our neighborhoods and our world. My Administration is committed to investing in community solutions and increasing opportunities for Americans to serve.

... During National Volunteer Week, we celebrate the profound impact of volunteers and encourage all Americans to discover their own power to make a difference. Every one of us has a role to play in making our communities and our country stronger. I encourage all Americans to help us renew progress and prosperity and build a brighter future for our Nation by visiting to find a local project.

People always talk about volunteering as if it is only about giving. They seldom talk about the benefits derived from volunteer work. In the first diary I posted for this group, Volunteering: The Best Paying Job You May Ever Have, I tried to describe how rewarding my volunteer experience has been. Volunteering allows you to gain work experience in just about any field you can imagine. It is also a great opportunity to meet like-minded people, whether you are working at an animal shelter or for a political campaign. And even though it may be a huge help to the organization or group you are working for, it can also be incredibly fun.

If you would like to join this group or write a diary about your experience as a volunteer, please let me know in the comments.

Originally posted to Volunteering for a Better World on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 05:57 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I've volunteered with a wildlife study since '93 (8+ / 0-)

    I love what I do with the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, and have benefitted in many ways from my time with this program.  I've learned about the birds themselves, about their migrations, about the problems they face in our world, about changes in their populations... and my work has helped add to that body of knowledge.  I've learned a lot about training and management, and have learned to be an effective leader of a group of volunteers.  I've had an excuse to spend time outdoors, in a wonderful environment (but so close to a big city!), and learned to see the annual cycles through the changes of season - it's really given me a much better understanding of the world around me.  Best of all, I've gotten to know hundreds of great fellow volunteers over the years and count several among them as my closest friends.

    In return, we've given the organization the ability to do an ambitious, long-term study, which now - after 25 years - is giving us a better idea of long term trends in these populations.  Through the diversity of backgrounds among the volunteers, we've come up with a number of interesting studies that have grown from the the questions that piqued a volunteer's interest.  (and we have a large pool of volunteers who will step up and work on these extra projects.)

    And on behalf of the raptors themselves, we've got a small army of people who are looking out for the birds.  We get the word out about not using rodent poisons that will kill the natural predators in their midst.  For that matter, we make them aware of those predators in the first place - getting people to take a moment to look up, in the heart of a city, and see a wild hawk or falcon soaring overhead.  

    It's been incredibly rewarding all around, and I can't imagine how different my life would have been without this remarkable experience.  (and I'm sure I'd have a different user name!)

    They only call it Class War when we fight back.

    by lineatus on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 06:29:40 AM PDT

    •  Thanks for that comment. Isn't it (8+ / 0-)

      amazing how rewarding something can be that you started out doing because you were just trying to help? I find that the benefits of volunteering for an organization you really believe in outweigh the time and effort involved by a longshot. Like you, I have met so many incredible, intelligent, caring people through every volunteer job I've ever had. That is just one positive aspect of volunteer work. I thought I knew a lot about dogs and cats before I started working at the shelter - but I've learned so much more. And, in addition to that, I've also learned a lot about rabbits, birds, ferrets, and all kinds of small rodents. One of the best things I ever did in my life was decide to volunteer at the animal shelter - that's for sure!

      He who is carried away by his own importance seldom has far to walk back.

      by StateOfGrace on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 06:47:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  BTW, I'd be up for posting a diary. (7+ / 0-)

    I can talk about the actual work, but would also be interested in doing a separate diary on making a commitment as a volunteer.  I think it's important for people to decide whether they want to do a one-off (like a coastal cleanup day, or serving food on Thanksgiving at a shelter, or planting seedlings at a habitat restoration project) vs. a long-term commitment (ongoing beach monitoring or weekly cooking for a shelter or care of seedlings at a nursery for a habitat restoration project).

    Volunteer organizations have to invest a good deal of energy into training (most) people for complicated jobs - usually the most interesting stuff.  They want to be sure that you're interested in sticking around long enough to make a difference before they put that effort into you - after all, it's time and resources that could be going to their main mission.  Before you make a volunteer commitment, it's important to be honest with yourself about how much time you'll be able to put into it.  If the answer is "not much", don't let it stop you from volunteering, just be honest with the organization and try not to be disappointed if you aren't doing the "fun stuff" right away.

    They only call it Class War when we fight back.

    by lineatus on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 07:38:43 AM PDT

    •  Excellent! If you want to post your diaries (6+ / 0-)

      to this group, I'll give you access to do so.

      What you said about the difference in time commitment is something I was discussing with a friend recently. At the shelter, we have lots of volunteers who only work once a year on special annual events that we have. It doesn't make the work of these volunteers less important or their impact any smaller. They make a HUGE difference!

      He who is carried away by his own importance seldom has far to walk back.

      by StateOfGrace on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 08:01:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Absolutely. (6+ / 0-)

        When the Cosco Busan oil spill happened here in the bay area, many people wanted to volunteer to help care for oiled birds.  The actual cleaning requires some training - you're working with wild animals, after all.  This meant that most of the would-be volunteers couldn't handle birds and some people lost interest at that point.  But many others stuck around to do the grunt work - washing towels and dishes, preparing food, changing water - things that freed the trained volunteers to do the actual cleaning.  After the crisis was past, many of them got trained so that they'll be able to help for future disasters (in fact, many went on to help in the gulf last year).

        Everyone's effort is important, but it's important to be clear about what you are capable of doing.

        They only call it Class War when we fight back.

        by lineatus on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 09:05:03 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Recent grads and work experience (8+ / 0-)

    To your point about gaining work experience, I commend all the un- and underemployed recent college grads, of whom there are too too many, to consider canvassing local nonprofits till they find one needful of the trainning and skills that they got in college.  Later, a potential employer will be happy to consider this real world, though unpaid, work experience together with the recommendations of people that have seen the grad in action.  
    In addition to giving the grad some real world experience this work will likely put them in touch with potential employers or, at least, people working with those potential employers.

    •  You are absolutely right. I work (7+ / 0-)

      for a university and I advise students about extra-curricular activities. Volunteering goes a long way in helping college students make informed decisions about what they're good at and what they might enjoy doing once they're out of school.

      If people do volunteer work to beef up their resumes though, I really advise them to treat their volunteer job with the same seriousness they would treat a paying job. You still have to show up on time and give it your best. Those are the sorts of volunteers that organizations will do their best to promote - whether it's through a recommendation for another job or to a paying position within the organization.

      He who is carried away by his own importance seldom has far to walk back.

      by StateOfGrace on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 09:18:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  My first volunteer work was as a candy-striper (6+ / 0-)

      at a VA hospital once a week when I was 15.  When I turned 16 and could get a job, the guy who hired me said that the fact that I'd done volunteer work and stuck with it was a big factor.

      They only call it Class War when we fight back.

      by lineatus on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 10:08:23 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I cook for the local AIDS house once a month (7+ / 0-)

    on Saturday night.  They are such sweet guys and they
    love my cooking, there are about 10 to 12 people at any
    given time including the staff.  I used to cook for the
    homeless, I was doing it by myself and cooking for
    120 to 160 people was too much to do for one person,
    so after about 18 months I switched to what I am doing now.  
    It suits me much better.  We sit, eat dinner and visit.

    It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment. Ansel Adams -6.5 -6.75

    by Statusquomustgo on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 09:06:03 AM PDT

  •  Girl Scout Troop Leader! (8+ / 0-)

    Got the glitter under my nails to prove it, too.

  •  Tuesday Nights at the USO (7+ / 0-)

    I've been working that shift for almost 4 years now.

  •  I volunteer at a state park (6+ / 0-)

    I'm a uniformed volunteer at Henry W. Coe State Park, near San Jose. I'm also on the supporting organization's board of directors.

    Ms. Unoball and I also volunteer semiregularly doing trash pickup along a street near our home.

    •  Have you ever written any diaries about (5+ / 0-)

      your work with the state park? That would be really interesting. Are the board of directors elected? That would be nice to know more about too.

      He who is carried away by his own importance seldom has far to walk back.

      by StateOfGrace on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 10:56:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  No, and yes (5+ / 0-)

        That is, I've not written much about the park, but did a diary last fall to promote what turned out to be a failed ballot initiative that would have funded California state parks.

        Diary is here.

        The board is elected.

        •  That was a terrific diary! Your job there (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Senor Unoball, kirbybruno

          sounds like a lot of fun. Do you ever get to do the horse patrol? It sounds great. And I would love to attend the Tarantulafest! It sounds like your state park has several different ways to volunteer. Would you mind if I republished your diary to this group?

          He who is carried away by his own importance seldom has far to walk back.

          by StateOfGrace on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 11:44:03 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It is fun (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            StateOfGrace, kirbybruno

            No, I don't do horse patrol, for the very good reason that I don't have a horse! Coe Park has great trails for horses, however.

            I did a visitor center shift on Saturday afternoon, and my wife did a Powerpoint presentation to campers that evening about the park founder, Sada Coe.

            I do various things at Coe. Once or more a month I'll do a shift at the visitor center, but there are also fun things like trail building...

            Couple fun annual events coming up.... The last weekend of April is the annual Backcountry Weekend, in which the road to the Orestimba area is opened for traffic. This gives people a chance go get into part of the park that is usually not easily accessible because you normally have to hike to it, or ride horses/bicycles. For this year's event I'll be manning an information booth on Saturday the 30th, and will be leading a hike on the 31st.

            The weekend after that, on May 8, is the annual Mother's Day Breakfast, and this is a blast! For Mother's Day, we set up tables and cook for about 300 people out on a hilltop! Beautiful setting, and it's always a wonderful event. I'm one of the egg cooks, so will be scrambling eggs for the visitors.

            The Tarantulafest, in October, is very cool also. It's a celebration of huge spiders, as the males are migrating around looking for females to mate with in the fall. People bring in snakes and spiders to show, and it's very educational for kids to learn the benefits of these critters, that they are not to be feared.

            Of course you can republish the diary, but it was pretty much concerned with Prop. 21, so don't know how relevant it would be for people reading it now.

            •  I think it's a relevant diary because you did a (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              kirbybruno, Senor Unoball

              great job of showing how involved we get in all aspects of the organization when we volunteer. I got more involved in local politics as a result of my work with the shelter. I want to include all perspectives and as many different kinds of volunteering in this group.

              He who is carried away by his own importance seldom has far to walk back.

              by StateOfGrace on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 01:52:53 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  Hands-On California does a great job (3+ / 0-)

    of organizing volunteer events and opportunities in our region, often at the Food Bank and also weeding and restoring areas near the San Joaquin River.  I helped plant some wild rose bushes on Saturday.  For a tiny plant, we had to dig a two-foot hole, insert wire mesh to keep out the gophers and other critters, place a large wire cage around that to keep out the deer, and then build up a berm to keep the irrigation water in place in summer.  Makes me wonder how nature manages all by itself.

    •  Wow - that does sound like a lot of (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kirbybruno, Senor Unoball, ybruti

      work! I'm glad I don't have to do all of that when I plant rose bushes in my garden. Did you get your volunteer job through Hands-On California? They really have a great website - it looks like a good way to mobilize people.

      He who is carried away by his own importance seldom has far to walk back.

      by StateOfGrace on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 12:18:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Hands-On has contacts with many groups (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        including schools, Cub Scouts, social organizations, businesses, hospitals, government offices, etc. etc.  Some groups then have people who organize some of their members to show up at a Hands-On event. For example, a sales clerk from a department store said her manager had recruited their group to plant native oak trees.  It's interesting to see the different  t-shirts the various groups wear.  

        •  If you ever want to write a diary (0+ / 0-)

          about your volunteer experience and post it to this group, I would love it. I will send you a message!

          He who is carried away by his own importance seldom has far to walk back.

          by StateOfGrace on Tue Apr 12, 2011 at 08:42:13 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Hands-On doesn't plan the details (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          of an event.  In that respect it's hands-off.  The sponsoring organizations, like the River Trust or the Food Bank, tell Hands-On how many volunteers they need for a specific event.  Then Hands-On staffers recruit the volunteers.

  •  Thanks for reminding me (3+ / 0-)

     I will call Habitat for Humanity ,and set up a time I can help.


    •  That's great! Have you worked with (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      kirbybruno, Senor Unoball

      them before? I love using power tools and doing stuff around my house but I've never volunteered with them. I have considered working at one of their stores - they have one in my area and it's staffed by volunteers.

      He who is carried away by his own importance seldom has far to walk back.

      by StateOfGrace on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 12:31:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  In the Past (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I have worked with them in the past.
            It's one of the most satisfying things I have ever done.

          The last couple years I have been stuck in my self centered world.

          I'm trying to get back to  helping others when I can, instead of only thinking of myself.

  •  I'm off to tutoring (3+ / 0-)

    I tutor after-school elementary school kids in NYC. Unfortunately we just got some 7th graders thrown into the mix which might make for a more turbulent atmosphere, but I'm going in with an open mind and hopefully will continue to make a difference.

    "Reality has a well-known liberal bias." - Stephen Colbert

    by Rob Dapore on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 12:30:14 PM PDT

  •  My dog is the volunteer (3+ / 0-)

    My dog is a therapy dog.  We visit an assisted living home each week and he brings a lot of joy to the residents.  We also participate in a reading program in the public primary school (2nd graders) where the kids read books aloud to the dogs.  The idea is that the dogs are nonjudgemental and that makes it fun for the kids who are having trouble with their reading.  We work with the same kids all year and it's great to see their progress here as the school year comes to a close.

    Well-behaved women rarely make history - Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

    by Milly Watt on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 01:04:34 PM PDT

    •  I always love to meet dogs that have a job. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Senor Unoball, kirbybruno, Milly Watt

      They always seem so serious about their work. Were you involved in his training?

      I bet it does help the second graders to read to the dogs. If they like dogs, I would bet just having them around would help the kids feel more relaxed and not get nervous when they are reading. I had a dog growing up and I remember how much I liked talking to him. I don't remember if I ever read to him but I probably did.

      He who is carried away by his own importance seldom has far to walk back.

      by StateOfGrace on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 01:16:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  i help run a homeless shelter and our volunteers (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    StateOfGrace, Senor Unoball

    donation of cooked meals cuts our food costs by >95% as well as the time and expertise involved.  We couldn't provide nearly the same level of service without our volunteers.

    Thank you for this diary and thank you to anyone who has ever worked simply for no expectation but to contribute to a better world.

    •  Thank you for commenting! I think running (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      a homeless shelter has to be one of the most difficult jobs - not just the work itself but also the emotional impact it has on you to work with people who are in those circumstances. I know a lot of people shy away from that sort of work because they think it would just be too upsetting or depressing (those are the kinds of things people say to me about working at the animal shelter) but it really isn't depressing, is it? Because you feel like you're doing something and you can see the good that your work does every single day. It can get stressful sometimes, though - I'm sure.

      He who is carried away by his own importance seldom has far to walk back.

      by StateOfGrace on Mon Apr 11, 2011 at 02:59:39 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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