Should I Volunteer? How Do I Start?
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VolunteerThinking about what you’re going to do over summer vacation? Well it’s never too early to start seeking out volunteer opportunities. As you prepare to start your High School journey one way to ensure a well rounded experience is to include donating some of your time to the community or a cause you believe in. When it comes to volunteering you may think you have to do physical work in a food bank or spend hours talking with elderly people in a nursing home. With such a narrow scope of volunteer opportunities you may immediately think that it’s not for you; however, I am happy to tell you that the type of volunteer work you’re looking for is open for you to explore. Your time could be spent mentoring at risk youth at summer camp, assisting your local zoo, helping in a hospital or working with hospice patients.

“A volunteer experience is as unique as you are and there are no limits to what you can learn and how you can grow as a human being.”

Explore Your Interests
Taking on volunteer roles, as an early teen is beneficial and has the possibility to give you a feel for the type of work that may interest you in the future. If you have an idea that you want to go into a medical profession, a hospital may be the perfect place for you to learn more about the field. Often more accurate pictures can be painted of a working environment when you are able to experience them first hand. Volunteering at a local animal shelter may open your eyes to a career in veterinary medicine or send you searching for a grass roots organization that supports these types of services.

Develop Leadership Skills
Through volunteer activities participants develop or strengthen communication and leadership skills as well as expand their knowledge in an area they may not be familiar with. During your volunteer experience you will learn about your own strengths and weaknesses while sharing your passion. As you commit to a volunteer group or organization you will have the ability to take on leadership roles in tasks that will allow you to enhance skills that will be essential in the future. When the time comes to write admission letters to colleges you will have concrete, real world examples to showcase your abilities; the supervisors you volunteer with can also write you unique and powerful letters of recommendation. These experiences will also be beneficial when applying to future competitive summer programs or internships.

Build Your Network
Although college may seem out of sight at the moment, it’s never too early to start thinking about how you can use the connections you make while you are volunteering. Although it is probably not in your best interest to come right out and tell a volunteer agency you are looking for a letter of recommendation, over time you can develop relationships that will support you in the future.

I want to stress the importance of networking during your volunteer activities; often you make connections with mentors and professionals that may be valuable later on. Be sure to keep in touch through correspondence or by phone if you switch to a different volunteer experience. Not only can volunteer coordinators be helpful when looking for recommendations but the people that you volunteer with can provide a wealth of information—if you open yourself up to the experiences and get to know them. Through your volunteer experience you may meet working professionals in fields of interest to you. Again, it’s never too early to start thinking about future career plans, and sometimes the best opportunities arise unexpectedly.

Where to Look?
Now that you know the benefit of volunteering, it’s on you to find an opportunity that fuels your interests. Whether you find yourself volunteering with your family, a religious organization or a youth volunteer group, the choice is yours. If you have trouble finding a cause or community activity, there are plenty of national volunteer organizations such as, The American Red Cross, or Habitat for Humanity. If you are looking for something a little closer to home you can check out your local city webpages to search for volunteer opportunities. There are numerous volunteer programs that you can find online, such as the Volunteer Center of the East Bay, which provides opportunities for youth ages 13-17. Just be sure to pursue options safely and include a parent or guardian.

No matter what type of volunteer activity you choose to be a part of, know that not only will the opportunity be preparing you for the future but it will also provide you with personal gratification that will influence you to continue volunteering in the future.

By Kathryn Garcia