"If you're new to volunteering, there is no better advice than to start with what you are most passionate about," says Alisa Kesten, Executive Director of Volunteer New York!
"For some people, their volunteer work is a calling," says Kesten, "like always knowing that you wanted to work with animals, for example. For others it could be a personal, family, or life event, where you experienced something that triggered a passion for your fight against hunger, or support of breast cancer awareness, or cleaning up our parks and rivers. For others still, it may take trying a few different types of volunteer opportunities before finding what you are truly most passionate about. And that's fine too; it's part of the journey!"
Andrea Ziel, Executive Director of WomenOnCall, which matches volunteers with specialized skills with nonprofit organizations with specific needs, advises starting out slowly. "If there's a cause that interests you, dip your toe in the water by volunteering on one occasion," she suggests. "Then, you can always find ways to get more involved."
In fact, WomenOnCall focuses on short-term volunteer opportunities that require 10 hours of service or less so that there is a finite start and end to the project. "We really believe in this model because it gives women, in particular, the opportunity to work with a number of different organizations, learn more about their mission and activities, and explore their own interests," says Ziel.
To start exploring volunteer opportunities that mesh with your personal interests, Kesten suggests finding a volunteer connector agency close to you by searching several of these databases:
Points of Light, VolunteerMatch, Idealist, Meetup, Senior Corps, or RSVP, one of the largest volunteer networks in the nation for people 55 and over.
Whether your passion is kids, the arts, animal welfare, the environment, or the elderly--to name but a few--there are organizations, big and small, local or worldwide, that will welcome your enthusiasm and willingness to pitch in. Here are just a few:
Love kids? Consider becoming a Foster Grandparent Volunteer, where you can become a role model, mentor, and friend to children with exceptional needs, or a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Children to make sure an abused or underserved child doesn't get lost in the legal system. Or you could do what 110-year-old (yes, you read that right!) Mazie Ford does; the Florida resident took up crocheting at the age of 100 and makes hats for newborns at her local hospital.
Mom and Dad certainly understand what it's like to get older and are undoubtedly grateful for all you do for them. Not everybody has family nearby though. Senior Companions are volunteers 55 and older who offer help and friendship to adults who have difficulty with daily living tasks, such as shopping or paying bills, while at the same time giving families and professional caregivers a much-needed break.
For those who are passionate about the arts, consider becoming a docent at a local museum or an usher at a nearby theater. Organizations like Baltimore's Senior Box Office, for example, have numerous opportunities from marketing and publicity to ushering (complete with complimentary theater tickets).
If you have a cause near and dear to your heart, find the local chapter of the national association and contact them about volunteering. Susan G. Komen , for example, seeks volunteers in its fight against breast cancer, while environmentalists can find their niche at organizations such as The Nature Conservancy.
"Your passions really matter to your community more than you know," says Kesten. "If you're giving back for a reason, it will show, and it will make all the difference."
Read more and get started today:
The Benefits of Volunteering and How Technology Can Help
A Chance to Make a Difference: Volunteer Opportunities for Older Adults