Monday, January 24, 2011

'Tis the Season: Spread Good Cheer Throughout the Year

During the holiday season, I noticed many posts popping up on the various list serves I belong to asking about volunteering opportunities and how to get children involved. From food drives, to working at a soup kitchen and making meals for the homeless, there were lots of responses and many good suggestions. I was impressed by the interest so many people had in giving back to the community and wanting to get their children involved, even young children.  I have always been a huge advocate for volunteering in the community. Before motherhood, I volunteered quite often. Since motherhood, well I am sorry to say, the only volunteering I do is cleaning out the cat's litter box. Seeing all this interest in volunteering got me thinking (uh oh) about how much I miss feeling a part of the community. Just because I am a busy mom doesn't mean I can't be giving back to the community, and for that matter, the holidays are not the only time to be of service.  So, I called my friends at the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless (a place I did a volunteer video project for way back when), and talked with Teri Brentis, Community Outreach Coordinator, to get their perspective on volunteering. She not only helped reinvigorate my passion for volunteering, she also helped me understand volunteering from the non-profit perspective. 

 Why volunteer and the importance of volunteering? (paraphrased answer)
The world has more jobs to do than the money, resources and people to do the jobs. Volunteering fills not only the needs in the community, it just plum feels good to help people, fix the environment, to give back. Volunteering helps connect people to the community. It's even been proven that the more people feel connected, the longer they live, the better they feel and the happier they are.
The Health Benefits of Volunteering:
My take away- volunteering is not only important to fill gaps in the community, but to fill gaps of the soul- good for self awareness. It's even good for your health too!

How to get involved? 
  • Figure out an area of interest- the environment, combating homelessness or domestic violence, animals, heart disease awareness, what have you. 
  • Research, research, research. Find reputable organizations that get the message out and have volunteer guidelines in place. That is, find places that make it easy to volunteer with understandable guidelines and an easy way to sign-up. 
  • Have patience. Teri really stressed this point to me. She mentioned that if you don't get a phone call or email back right away try to understand. Many non-profits are working under tight budgets and are stretched to the max. It takes time and money to implement volunteer programs and to manage them. Taking this into account, it's hard for many non-profits to return correspondence right away. Please don't give-up.
  • Be realistic about what you and your children can do. When getting children involved with volunteering, especially the younger ones, think of ways they can be of service with your oversight. Don't think of this as free babysitting. Find things your child can do, not be taught to do. For example, clean-up a park, family walk, make lunches for a shelter...
  • Make time to get involved. Whether it's a once a week, once a month, a once a year thing- get active! Be happy. 
Ways to get involved:

In the DC metro area there are tons of ways to get involved in your community. Teri gave me a couple of clearing houses for volunteering, as follows:
Another place to consider for professionals who are now stay-at-home moms is the Montgomery County Volunteer Center Pro Bono Consultant Program .

Here's to a prosperous year of volunteering!

No comments: