Samantha Tungul, our stateside columnist talks about the personal and wider benefits of taking time to volunteer.
I decided to start volunteering at my local animal shelter about a year and a half ago. It started because I felt like I needed to do something productive with my time. It’s true what I would hear: at a certain point in life I learned I wanted to do more things to do with my time other than acquire stuff. I kept thinking, “There has to be something more,” and it became clear I wanted to give back to my community that had taken care of me for so long.
I thought for a while about which organisation I wanted to give my time to. Time is a precious com- modity, and there are countless groups out there. My biggest concern was I didn’t want to spread myself too thin, and properly commit myself to whichever organisation I signed up for. After some consideration, I chose my local animal shelter.
Being with this group for over a year has taught me more than I ever expected. I could go on for days talking about why volunteering is good for the soul, but these are my top five favorite reasons why I love to volunteer, and why you might want to consider donating your time too.
1. You feel connected to your community: This may seem obvious, but volunteering is a fantastic way to get to know your neighbours. In today’s day and age, people tend to keep to themselves, but when you volunteer, you meet so many new people and connect over a shared dedication to a common cause. Everyone’s also really happy, because we all want to be there; if we didn’t, then why would we volunteer? Being part of a positive team with a shared vision, helps make you feel like you’re really part of your neighbourhood.
2. You make a real difference: I can’t stress this enough, but when I volunteer I know I’m helping make a difference not only to the homeless animals in my community, but to the people who visit our shel- ter. Whether they’re looking for a new furry family member, turning in a stray animal, or surrendering a beloved pet, I do my best to make sure people and animals alike feel like the shelter is a safe place, and they’ll be taken care of. Making those kinds of con- nections gives me warm fuzzies on the inside.
3. You learn things about your community, and in turn become an ambassador: I am That Person in my group of friends now. Whenever someone has a question about the shelter, or comes across a stray animal, I’ve become the person to call on protocol. What should they do? What’s the non-emergency line they can call? Where do they go if they have lost their pet? I know all of these things now, and I can help be a vessel of information for my circle of friends and family.
4. You lead by example, and encourage other people to volunteer: This may be one of my favorite outcomes, and was a pleasant surprise. Just by volunteering myself, I’ve recruited four or five of my friends to start volunteering as well. One of my friends knits blankets for our foster animals, and another friend is a foster parent. One friend volun- teers her time in our cat community room, and one friend adopted their dog from the shelter. When people see you doing good things in the community, it inspires other people to get involved too! We can all contribute something in our own ways, and the more good we can spread, the better.
5. Finally, you learn you have so much to give, and want to do other good things: I’ve decided that volunteering is a great way to learn about other interests I have. I’ve applied the same concept in oth- er areas of my life, and started to volunteer for pro- jects at work. My results were the same: I met new people, learned new things I didn’t know before, and became more aware of my daily environment. I volunteer for writing opportunities, events, and help with other great causes when I have the time. If you want to do it, ask someone and volunteer. Who knows what opportunities will come out of it, and what doors it might open.
Money is great (I can’t underestimate how great money is), but rolling up your sleeves and getting involved can have a terrific domino effect. If you think you might want to donate some of your time, think about which organisation really motivates you, and do a little research to see how you can volun- teer. I chose my local animal shelter, but it can be anything in your community. My sister helps with a local women’s shelter, and my mum helps with veter- an events. I know another group who sells their art, and donates towards ending human trafficking.
There are a myriad of ways to get involved; pick something you want to do and give it a go. Then promise yourself you’ll commit at least six months, and see what happens. I started volunteering for myself, but over time it transformed into something much bigger. What I put in, I get back ten-fold. It sounds like a cheesy after-school special, but the sentiment rings true: if we all started small by giving a little time in our communities, think about what kind of positive affect we could have all over the world.
Follow Sam on twitter @Sammi_jo