Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Volunteering Can Transform Your Life

About 12 years ago my life hit a rough patch. I was in a job that wasn't using my skills, and wasn't going anywhere. My boyfriend had broken up with me. Turning 30 wasn't far away. I wasn't feeling so hot.

I started volunteering at a San Francisco based arts education organization, Streetside Stories. The program teaches autobiographical writing in Bay Area public schools using storytelling (oral, written, digital).

One or two mornings per week I would ride the bus to a public middle school and help students write a story about their life. It was the highlight of my week. Not only did hearing their stories help me put mine in a different perspective, it was fun!

After volunteering for about 6 months, Streetside asked me if I could do some subbing for their instructors; after about a year they offered me a job. I ended up working there for six years. Many of the friendships I made with staff members then I still have today. I met my husband during that time as well.

I think my experience at Streetside is why I'm such a big proponent of volunteering. I believe that it can bring magical changes into your life. The changes might not be as dramatic as mine, but volunteering will transform you in some way.

Next week, April 19-25, is National Volunteer Week. What better time to start looking for a volunteer opportunity? Sites like VolunteerMatch, Volunteer Solutions,, Social Actions, Transitions Abroad, One Brick, Network for Good, Idealist, HandsOn Network, GuideStar, Global Vounteers and 1-800 are great places to look for opportunities.

You might think you don't have time to volunteer, but volunteering can take many forms: in person, virtual, long-term, one-time, during a vacation, etc. You can also volunteer in your own community, rather than with an organization, by doing things like taking care of a friend's child once a week, or running errands for an elderly neighbor.

Have you had a transformative experience from volunteering? I'd love to hear about it.

Related posts and articles
Volunteering Generous Job Search Strategy by Rachel Emma Silverman on the WSJ Blogs.
Unexpected Payoffs: The Benefits of Volunteering by Lane Wallace on No Map. No Guide. No Limits.
5 Reasons I Love to Volunteer by Roger Carr of Everyday Giving.
Benefits of Volunteering on Energize Inc.

Cross-posted from Britt Bravo is a Big Vision Consultant.

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  1. Britt,

    I have been at the same corporate company for 21 years. Grateful for the experience and many lessons learned.

    I setting out on a course 2 years ago with much intention on realizing my purpose and fufilling my purpose. I am still on the journey, which included starting a business (while still working fulltime).

    I thought it was about an exit plan from corporate America and everytime I would make it about having enough money to quit I shut down. When I shared my heart, starting writing and starting to give I was broken wide open to the signs leading me on a magical journey.

    I now edit a newsletter for a non profit orginazation and am working on other great projects that benefit women and children in shelters.

    Here's the funny thing I knew this was the path long ago, but my mind was overriding my heart as I took my steps. I was afraid of my intuition and my own power, which is God's love inside of me and everyone.

    Love your work. Keep it up!!!

  2. Volunteering helped me focus my 'encore' consulting business to work with volunteer leaders. I am a Board Member of SHiFT Last year after a Board Meeting I made some suggestions to the President on how to improve results for SHiFT. I realized, after thinking about it, that I had come up with a couple of unique ideas to solve problems I have seen for years in nonprofits especially all volunteer nonprofits.

  3. Thank you for sharing your stories Dancing B*A*G Lady and Michael!

  4. Britt:
    I never really thought about the extent to which one single volunteering experience led to so much of what I am now doing with my life.

    My first board position came from that experience, which led to our doing our first diaper drive, which led to our building the first Diaper Bank which led to much of what I am doing now.

    That same single experience gave me much of the insight into what was possible in this sector.

    Thank you for getting me to see that!


  5. Thanks for sharing your story, Hildy. I think it is interesting that, at least in the States, we teach young people that figuring out what you want to do with your life goes in a straight line: you decide what you want to do, you get the experience you need to do it, you get a job, and you do it till you die. But life is rarely ever like that. As your story shows, one's life path takes many zig zags.

  6. Do you have ideas or resources for "virtual" volunteering? That would be great, then I can share it as well. I'm really liking your tweets and blogs.

  7. Hi Jeri - Here are a couple posts about virtual volunteering:

    Thanks, reading!


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