Reasons to Volunteer
Throughout our time in college, the focus is almost always inward, and most of us spend years consumed by introspection. “What are my plans?” “What am I passionate about?” “What should I be doing?” Research tells us that if we want to learn something about ourselves or take a step in the right direction, often it’s best to step outward instead of inward; thinking about someone else’s needs often yields surprising results for our own well-being.
The benefits of volunteering are well-documented but so are the obstacles to entry. In a country with as much philanthropy as the United States, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the gamut of opportunities. Prices can be steep, travel can be required, companies can turn out to be less altruistic than advertised — there’s a lot to consider.
But this much is true: working through the logistics is well worth it. Volunteering can help you connect with your community, become a part of something larger than yourself, develop new skills, make a difference, and make your mom proud (not to be underestimated). If you’re finding yourself in a rut, or even considering transferring schools, here is a quick rundown on how to get the ball rolling on volunteering in the US.
Determining Your Program Type
There are as many types of volunteering programs as there are problems in the world — which is to say, a lot. Here are a few categories:
Volunteering with Animals
Whether you’re interested in administering medicine, improving living conditions, or just playing with a four-legged furry friend for the afternoon, there’s no shortage of animal-focused volunteer opportunities in the US.
Even though the US is the wealthiest country on earth, many people end up slipping through the cracks. Helping kickstart someone’s financial opportunities is a great way to make an impact. Micro-credit programs, business education workshops, and one-on-one consulting are all in need.
Volunteers play important roles in today’s hospitals and health centers. If you’re passionate about healthcare and are considering an eventual move into the medical world, this could be a great time to get your feet wet.
Underserved communities are starved for necessary resources in the classroom, and having an extra pair of hands on deck can be a lifesaver. Again, if you’re considering making a push for an education degree, this will provide invaluable experience to add to your resume.
If you’re passionate about conservation and sustainability, a volunteering role in an environmental field is your calling. Whether it’s helping modernize recycling systems, protesting mining practices, or helping stock shelves in a sustainable food co-op, the opportunities are endless.
Where to Volunteer
Once you have the ‘what’ sorted, you next need to consider the ‘where.’ When thinking about where to go in the US, focus on the problem or need you’re looking to alleviate. If it’s economic instability, head to traditionally disenfranchized places like Detroit, Cleveland, Newark, Birmingham, or New Orleans. Also, if your program doesn’t provide housing, browse these rentals in New Orleans to find the most economically viable option.
If you’re honing in on an environmental cause, head somewhere that has been particularly affected by environmental disasters. Consider the drought-ridden valleys of California, the polluted beaches of Florida, or the clearcut forests of the Pacific Northwest. If you opt for Florida, check out accommodation rentals in Tampa.
[Think you might rather volunteer abroad? Check out this helpful article comparing volunteering in the US vs volunteering abroad.]
If you have a job or a family and the prospect of traveling across the country to volunteer is effectively out of the picture, you’re in luck. Especially in recent years, organizations and nonprofits have been massively benefiting from the help of virtual volunteers. Virtual volunteers work over the internet to help with data entry, website design, email marketing, writing and blogging, or any kind of virtual assistance.
If you’re a native of the states, the costs of volunteering will be significantly lower than if you choose to volunteer abroad. Especially if you choose to volunteer in your own local community, the commute time will be minimal and you can afford to stay in your own home. That said, some programs can range from anywhere from $100 to $1,000 per week. Once you determine your budget, you’ll be able to narrow down the options significantly.
Tips to Keep in Mind
Before jumping into the deep end of a volunteering project, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
First, know what you’re willing to commit, and don’t overpromise. Once hearing you’re interested, volunteer organizations are going to try to get as much out of you as possible (understandably so). Just be sure you’re transparent about how much time and energy you’ll have available.
As a general rule of thumb, we recommend staying close to home. There is surely a community center, an animal shelter, or an environmental organization that is in need of help right around the corner.
Consider doing something completely different than your standard 9-5. If you’re a student and spend much of your time reading and writing, consider landing a gig with manual labor. If your day job is working indoors all day, consider heading out on a beach cleanup or a tree rehabilitation mission.
Whatever it is, anything that takes you out of your comfort zone will be vastly more rewarding than something you already know how to do.
About Dillon DuBois: Dillon is a travel-hungry outdoor enthusiast originally from Encinitas, California. He’s been to 26 countries, traveled around the world on a boat, lived in a tent in the woods for 6 months, and currently lives in Medellin, Columbia. Dillon is a regular contributor to AllTheRooms, the world’s first vacation rental search engine, combining hotels with vacation rentals, secret deals, and all other types of accommodations. Besides writing, Dillon can be found playing soccer, drumming, cooking, and doing his best impression of a salsa dance.