April is National Volunteer Month, a time to highlight and honor the work that is accomplished every day by volunteers in our community. As I reflect on the meaning of volunteerism, it occurs to me that the concept is a lot broader than some people recognize.
During the fall holiday season, there is a heightened emphasis on volunteering. Some organizations literally have to turn people away in November, because the number of volunteers exceeds the amount of work that needs to be done. On the other hand, these same organizations and others are nearly begging for volunteers in July. For some people, volunteering means going to a soup kitchen and serving the patrons, or working at a homeless shelter giving away blankets to the poor. Those who are outdoor enthusiasts might go and help build trails in a national park. These are great volunteer assignments, but there are many more volunteer opportunities that can feed your need for service while providing important utility to the community.
One important volunteer opportunity is board service. Most charities are governed by a volunteer Board of Directors, comprised of people from the community who care about the work that is being done and who bring specific expertise. For example, a nonprofit organization’s board might have people who are knowledgeable in the areas of banking, legal affairs, marketing, operations, program development, and human resources. Board service can give you the opportunity to use the knowledge, skills and abilities that make you successful in your day job for the benefit of the community. Each nonprofit board is different, and requires a different set of skills, different time commitments, and has different expectations for members. Find a cause that you care about and see if any organizations in that particular segment could use your help.
It is important to note that some people specifically do not want to volunteer in their professional capacity. If you are a public defender and dealing with people accused of crimes all day, you may prefer to do something completely different as a volunteer. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a firefighter. My Dad was a truck driver back then and I was completely enthralled by anything powered with a diesel engine. I never became a firefighter, as I eventually got old enough to understand what firefighters actually do. When I was 20 I saw the movie “Backdraft” and that sealed the deal. Perhaps you, too, once dreamed of being a firefighter. Did you know that you can volunteer to be a firefighter? There are fire departments throughout the Front Range and beyond who rely upon volunteer firefighters to keep their community safe. Local departments include the Estes Valley Fire Protection District, the Platte Valley Fire Protection District, and the Evans Fire Protection District, among others. These departments literally could not function without volunteers. If you have ever wanted to volunteer in a way that provides critical assistance to your community, check out your local fire protection district to see if they are in need of personnel.
Lastly, another important volunteer role that can sometimes be overlooked is helping in the local schools. This goes beyond going on a field trip with your child’s class, but actually taking on a regular task to help extend the effectiveness of the classroom teacher. For example, in many local school districts there are multiple languages spoken by the children who attend. Often times these children fall behind, not because they lack enough intelligence to do the work but because there is a language barrier. The schools do the best they can to accommodate the needs of English as a Second Language (ESL) students but they have limited resources. Classroom volunteers can be a big help to provide extra attention to students who need it, while allowing the teacher to ensure that the rest of the class is able to remain on track.
There are many ways to volunteer, opportunities that go beyond the obvious ones. What creative and necessary volunteer opportunities would you suggest people consider? Add them in the comments, and thank you for considering what you can do to support the community during National Volunteer Month and beyond.
Have a great week,