As a kid, I remember volunteering with my parents. From time to time, we would hop in the car on a Saturday and head out to plant a tree along a new highway, take our puppy (and myself as a cute little kid) to visit the residents of a local nursing home, or even run a table chatting with people at the Delaware State Fair.
As a college student, I continued this tradition, joining a volunteer group of other like-minded ladies to prepare meals for the homeless, tutor inner-city kids after school, and collect money for various local causes. Now, I’m not trying to toot my own horn. I did some decent work, but I certainly was NOT Mother Teresa.
I did, however, get a lot out of the time that I did spend volunteering…
1. You have to MAKE Time
We all want to think that we’re the type to eat perfectly healthy, read verbose classic novels, engage politically, and volunteer in our communities. But when it comes down to it, we all get busy, overwhelmed, and have those times we want to cancel our plans and stay home.
As a kid, I didn’t have a choice: my parents decided that I was going to volunteer and so I did—albeit not without some whining on my part. But I always felt good after I completed a volunteer day. Sure, it wasn’t my first choice at the time, but I was being productive, I met new people, often I learned a new skill. At the end of the day, that was all that mattered.
What I took home was this: While it’s important to listen to your inner self and sometimes dial back on your commitments, it’s also important to remember what you get out of volunteering and consider that both yourself and your community will benefit from your time.
2. We All Have a Lot to Learn
It can be intimidating to become a volunteer sometimes because of a knowledge gap. My own internal monologue occasionally sounds something like this: “That project sounds really cool and I want to help out! …Oh wait, I know less than nothing about [insert topic here]. Guess that’s not happening.”
But as a volunteer coordinator, I can assure you that this is NOT the case! I wish someone had told me that when I was in college. If so, I might have tried some projects that challenged me more.
I don’t expect my volunteers to have a working knowledge about the health of the Inland Bays, know how to care for baby oysters, or be able to identify a fish they plucked out of the water. I’ll give them the background information needed, and they’ll learn along the way! It’s absolutely not a big deal.
In my experiences, I learned how to properly plant a pine tree, tutor middle schoolers (talk about a tough crowd), politely approach people on the street and ask for money for a cause (so intimidating!!), and even talk to people about the ins-and-outs of beekeeping (a topic I was still new to myself).
3. It Takes a Village
The final thing I learned as a volunteer was that it really does “take a village” to make amazing things happen. It would take one person forever to plant 12,000 trees by hand. This past December, 96 volunteers completed that same task in less than 10 hours total!
In the world of nonprofits, volunteers are our gold stars. We work hard to educate the public, collect and analyze data, and complete complex restoration projects. But with the help of volunteers, we can do that and more!
Overall, I can credit volunteering with getting me where I am today. I got my first job by highlighting my volunteer experience. And looking even earlier than that, I share fond memories of planting trees with my parents by the highway as a kid. It taught me that my contributions mattered and that even though I’m just one person, I can help make a difference. (Okay, so maybe I learned four things!)
Learn about upcoming CIB volunteer projects at www.inlandbays.org/volunteer