I Want to Volunteer in My Community – Where Do I Start?
There’s no argument about the benefits of giving service to others. Not only does it strengthen your community and improve the lives of those less fortunate, but it will make you happier and potentially even live longer. Service has a powerful effect on your mental state, your ability to make friends, your opportunities to socialize, and your self-esteem. All of these elements make for a healthier, more stable you.
Though most people express a desire to serve others no matter what their own situation, it can be hard to know where to get started. There are endless resources out there, and the options can feel overwhelming. It can also be intimidating to start something new.
Here are some ideas on how to get involved with community service in your area.
1. Start where you are
Because volunteering can be intimidating at first, we suggest starting in an environment you’re most familiar with. Offer service to someone in your neighborhood, join a service project at school, or get involved in something at your local church. Surely there are opportunities going on that you’ve already had access to; it may just take some asking around to find out what they are. You can even start as small as organizing a neighborhood potluck to build bonds in your immediate area.
2. Visit the lonely
Loneliness is a major factor in depression and even shortens the length of life. Talking to someone who is lonely may not seem like much, but it can do a world of good. Some of the loneliest people tend to be elderly members of the community who feel they can’t contribute or socialize in the way they’d like. Look up your local nursing home and ask if you can come play games or sit with someone who needs a friend. You can also talk to hospitals in the area about visiting cancer patients or critical care patients who don’t have family nearby.
3. Support the youth
Most communities have a Big Brother or Big Sister program to help young people who need strong role models in their lives. These children are often missing out on a parental figure and yearn for someone to look to for help with school, social problems, and friendship. Find a program in your area and start volunteering at least once a week to really make an impact on the rising generation.
4. Help with the refugee effort
If you’ve had any pulse on current events in the past few years, you know the refugee needs are very high all over the world right now. Though government policies are in hot debate, you can show your support to these populations by volunteering with the local refugee crisis nonprofit groups. World Relief is a nonprofit that has chapters all over the country. If they don’t have one in your area, they can surely recommend you to a place nearby.
5. Feed the hungry
Canned food drives and serving food at homeless shelters is quite popular during the holiday season, but at other times of the year the needs are very strong. Find a local food bank or soup kitchen and ask how you can best help them feed the hungry in your area. You may be able to run a food drive, partner with grocery stores to donate food, or personally serve meals to the hungry.
Every area has unique needs and service opportunities. This list is just a quick launching pad, but you can find even more ideas by visiting websites like VolunteerMatch or Create the Good to find hundreds of other ways to serve in your specific community. Check out their website, plug in your location and areas of interest, then watch to see how many opportunities are all around you.