Redefine What Volunteer Means to You

A young woman picks up garbage as a way to redefine what volunteer means to her.

Contributed by Michelle Hassler

What comes to mind when you hear the word “volunteer?” According to Merriam Webster, a volunteer is “a person who expresses a willingness to undertake a service.” Let’s take a moment to explore this explanation. What does it mean to be willing? Being a volunteer means that you are offering something – something that is not required nor an obligation.

You do not volunteer for the pursuit of a monetary prize or recognition. You volunteer because the optimist inside you, perhaps the idealist, spies a glimmer of hope. You understand that you are helping. You see that your time is worth it. You believe that you are capable of inciting change and making progress. In some way, large or small, you are capable of doing good. Social responsibility is often a driving force when it comes to volunteerism. Empathy and awareness simply come along with the territory.

Most of the time, to volunteer means that you are working side by side with others. This connects you to other human beings as you are working toward a common goal. When you volunteer, you are making connections. You are connected with the community. You are connected with the problem as well as the solution. You are connected to a process – a process in which you believe. Through your actions and involvement, you are benefitting others as well as yourself.

Whether it’s summer, fall, winter or spring, take a minute to think about using some time to volunteer for an organization in your community. Think about what you would like to do and create your own definition for volunteerism. Whether you are helping people in crisis or walking dogs at the local animal shelter, be sure to be involved with an organization or activity that is meaningful to you. After all, you are freely giving your time to someone or something larger than yourself. Below are a few things to consider when trying to decide on the type of volunteer work that is right for you.


Find a Passion

Is there a cause that excites you? Is there something happening in your local community or overseas that breaks your heart? Find something that evokes an emotional response within you. Identify your goals and interests. What excites you? What pulls at your heartstrings? Awaken your passions and your heart by volunteering for something that is meaningful to you. In the dawn of the digital age, you can easily find ways to help a cause that is far from home.


Consider Your Talents

What special skills or talents do you bring to the table? Are you a strong communicator? Do you work well with your hands? Are you creative? Do you like to study laws and policies? Consider if you want to use the same skill set you use during the workday when you volunteer. Perhaps you want to go in a completely different direction.


Honor the Commitment

Volunteers are busy people. They often have jobs, families and obligations to tend to. You are volunteering on your own time, but be sure to not overextend yourself to the extent that you will let someone down or not fulfill expectations. Do something that matters. You are choosing to use time to work for something. Be sure to give it your best shot!

If you are searching for volunteer opportunities in your local community, check with agencies or organizations that interest you and ask if they need volunteers. Perhaps there are opportunities at your place of worship, educational institution, or local hospital. There are also networks online that will connect you with volunteer opportunities such as The Points of Light Foundation or VolunteerMatch.


However, you do not need to look very far to find people who need help. There are likely people in your own life who could benefit from your time. If a friend or family member has a Lotsa Helping Hands community, see if you can help them out by viewing their calendar and signing up to help them with tasks or send some encouraging words their way. Being a volunteer means that even the smallest gestures are making a difference. So get out there and help to make the world a little brighter and kinder. Decide what being a volunteer means to you and run with it.