lessons learned as a volunteer

9 lessons I learned volunteering

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Our​ ​world​ ​is​ ​filled​ ​with​ opportunities​ ​to​ ​step​ ​up​ ​and​ ​use​ ​our​ ​gifts and​ ​talents​ ​to​ ​help​ one another.​ ​

And volunteering​ ​is one of the best ways to do so. But what’s often overlooked is how volunteering experiences can change us from within—how we learn and grow from them so we can give of ourselves in even bigger ways.

Over​ ​the​ ​past​ ​15​ ​years,​ ​I​’ve volunteered with a host of organizations both locally​ ​and​ abroad. And in that time, I’ve​ learned a few lessons ​that​ ​I​’d love to share with you:

1. See​ ​the​ ​one​ ​in​ ​front​ ​of​ ​you

It ​can​ ​be​ ​easy​ ​to​ become overwhelmed by the staggering number of people in need,​ ​but your​ ​job​ ​is​ ​to​ ​focus​ only ​on​ ​the​ ​one​ ​person who​ ​is​ ​standing​ ​right​ ​in​ ​front​ ​of​ ​youto​ ​love,​ ​serve and encourage.​ ​And​ ​that​ ​makes​ ​it​ ​easy.​ As Mother Teresa put it, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

2. Remember that we all have the same desire

We’re all broken people. And that brokenness​ ​looks​ ​different​ ​with​ ​each​ ​of​ ​us.​ ​Some of us struggle with addiction,​ ​while​ ​others​ ​can’t​ ​seem​ ​to​ ​stop​ ​counting​ ​the​ ​likes​ ​on​ ​their​ ​social​ ​media​ ​posts.​ ​But regardless,​ ​we​ ​all​ ​long ​to​ ​be​ ​known​, to be seen,​ to be encouraged—to be loved.

3. Don’t overcomplicate impact

It​’s​ ​actually​ ​really​ ​easy​ ​to​ ​make​ ​someone’s​ ​day.​ ​It​ ​just​ ​takes​ ​a​ ​willingness​ ​to​ ​show​ ​up,​ and give them your time​.​ ​So,​ ​if​ ​you’ve ever questioned whether your work really matters,​ ​remember​ ​this:​​ ​if​ ​you​ ​don’t​ ​show​ ​up,​ ​that’s a zero in the impact category, which, no matter how you frame it,​ ​is​ ​less​ than if you had shown up.

lessons learned from my work volunteering

4. Be committed

The world needs ​committed​ ​volunteers​ ​more​ ​than​ ​ever​ ​before.​ ​We​ ​need​ ​people​, not just to​ mindlessly ​sign​ ​up, but to​ faithfully ​follow​ ​through​ ​and​ ​show​ ​up​ ​​consistently.​ ​That​ ​isn’t​ ​glamorous,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​is​ ​necessary.

5. Be present—really

When​ ​you​ ​show​ ​up​ ​to​ ​volunteer, really​ ​be​ in the moment.​ ​Forget​ ​everything​ ​that​ ​may​ ​be happening​ ​on​ ​your​ ​phone,​ ​and​ ​decide​ ​to​ ​truly​ ​be present,​ ​whether​ ​it​’s​ ​for​ ​an​ ​hour​ ​or​ ​the whole ​day.​ ​Your​ ​presence​ ​is​ ​more​ ​a​ ​gift​ ​than​ ​even​ ​your skillset.

6. Make​ people ​the​ ​focus​

It​’s​ ​not​ ​about​ ​the​ ​details,​ the aesthetics ​or​ whether it was posted​ ​on​ ​social​ ​media. It’s about people—​how​ ​you​ ​make them​ ​feel​ ​and​ ​how​ ​you​ ​help them.​ ​And​ it ​doesn’t​ ​need​ ​to​ ​be ​groundbreaking. Maybe you ​helped​ ​them​ ​write​ ​their​ ​resume​ ​or​ you served​ ​them​ ​a​ ​hot​ ​meal.​ ​

7. Take​ ​care​ ​of​ ​yourself

When​ ​you’re​ ​giving,​ ​you​ ​have​ ​to​ ​make​ ​sure​ ​that​ you’re always​ ​filling​ ​yourself​ ​back​ ​up.​ ​Burnout is real, and we must take it seriously. ​Be​ ​someone​ ​who​ ​can​ ​stay​ committed​ ​for​ ​the​ ​long​ ​haul​.​ (Read “5 ways to make self-care a priority”)

8. Be​ ​humble

The​​ ​volunteering​ mentality ​has​ to​ ​be​ ​one of service.​ When you show up to your volunteer outing, simply ask, ​”How can I be of service today?” ​It’ll help get you in the right frame of mind.

9. Have​ ​fun!

Get​ ​to​ ​know​ ​people,​ ​make​ ​new​ ​friends, and be joyful​ ​in all that you do—especially serving others.​

Comments 1

  1. People are signing up for Thanksgiving and Christmas boxes. I know the lines are long and people are edgy especially if they just stood in line for an hour. When you are interviewing the person in front of you concentrate on them. Listen to them. Be PATIENT with them. Your goal is to get them help for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It is not to fill out a form.
    Introduce yourself
    Explain how the app process works
    LISTEN to the answers to your questions. They may not have given you the information you were expecting but the information they gave is still valuable.
    BE PATIENT-Language, frustration, guilt all can interfere with qualifying for aid. Work through the process together.
    If the applicant is missing information tell them how they can return with the missing information/documents. Try to NOT make them wait in line again.
    THANK THEM for allowing you to help them.
    Yes all this TLC takes longer and the lines are long BUT we are not there to fill out forms. We are there to help people.

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