Volunteering is a very worthwhile and rewarding endeavor, but little did I know that it would lead me to a sunny spring day where I found myself in downtown Anchorage being honored by the First Lady of Alaska, Nancy Murkowski.
At this point I am sure you are wondering why I was being honored by the Governor's wife. Well, the answer is simple: every year the Governor's wife chooses 10 individuals in the state to bestow the First Lady's Volunteer Service Award on. This year I was one of the fortunate recipients for that prestigious honor.
At the Awards luncheon I was struck by just how many astounding volunteers were there. Many of them were people who ended up working in the organization they started volunteering for. I also noticed that most of the recipients were adults.
This led me to the conclusion that young people who decide to make volunteering a key component of their lives will definitely stand out, to judges, colleges, organizations, companies... the list goes on. So if you take the time to start volunteering and becoming actively involved in your community while you are young, those experiences and skills you learn early will give you a distinct leg up in your future aspirations, no matter where they lie.
Why Should Homeschoolers Volunteer?
As homeschoolers we have incredible opportunities to incorporate many aspects of volunteer work into our school subjects, not just service learning classes. For example, every organization has a newsletter or web site that publishes stories from their volunteers. My mom always made sure that I wrote up a report or story of some kind for a newsletter to finish a unit of volunteering. Now I am using the writing skills I learned writing for Practical Homeschooling magazine!
Not only can volunteering help others, and help you win awards, but the jobs you do while volunteering will give you extensive experience and skills which will greatly enhance your resume. Depending on what organization you volunteer with, you may be given a position which will look very nice on a resume and which will provide you with numerous skills, including leadership.
In addition to adding volunteer work hours, awards, positions, etc. to your resume, volunteering helps you add mentors to your life. Through volunteering I have had the privilege to meet so many incredible people who have mentored me and shown me that with determination, perseverance, and a great purpose in mind we can truly make a difference. My parents and Lieutenant Governor and Mrs. Leman have especially modeled this to me and have been a great inspiration to me.
Additionally, volunteer work is something that the whole family can do together and is a great way to instill the importance of volunteer work and the work ethic in children (i.e. walking the talk). I know that I have grown immensely due to the volunteer work I have done.
Panning for (Volunteering) Gold
When I was about 7 years old I and my friend Rona taught people from all over Alaska, the US, and the world, to gold pan at the Alaska State Fair as a volunteer for the Alaska Miners' Association. That is truly an experience I will never forget! Not only did I learn to gold pan successfully myself, but I learned a great deal about Alaskan history as well as communication skills.
At about 11 years old I volunteered as a Skating Camp Leader, which provided me with the skills of teaching younger children figure skating, helping them stay safe during field trips, as well as being an overall good role model.
As the youngest Master Watershed Steward in the State of Alaska, I learned extensive skills through volunteering for this organization. They taught me 40 hours of environmental science and I in turn paid it back by volunteering at various events for 40-plus hours. I learned how to assess the quality of our waterways and of the local habitats surrounding them. I was even fortunate enough to teach elementary school students about the sources of pollution in the community using an Enviroscape module.
Through Special Olympics I received the chance to volunteer on a world scale when the 2001 World Games came to Alaska. I learned how to teach athletes from all over the world how to make arts and crafts projects at "Olympic Town," learned how to be a scoreboard operator at the Snowboarding Venue, as well as entertaining and just being a pal to athletes at the Figure Skating Venue. Not only did I learn new skills through these remarkable experiences, but I made true friends and came away with the knowledge that I did make a difference.
As the youngest member and the Secretary for Lieutenant Governor Loren Leman's Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Task Force I become skilled at taking the meeting minutes as well as becoming immersed in the needs of social service organizations in our state. As a Spirit of Youth Board of Director and Teen Action Council member I became aware of the many youth serving my state through their service work. As part of Spirit of Youth I was able to honor these deserving young people as well as bring attention to the importance of youth volunteerism and community involvement.
How to Find the Best Volunteer Work for You
What are your interests? Do you want to learn a new sport by volunteering through Special Olympics, or do you want to volunteer in your church and teach Sunday School? What are your talents?
If you have a talent in music, art, sports, public speaking, or any other area think about how those talents might be best suited for volunteering.
It is also important to consider carefully what organization you want to volunteer for. Study their mission statement and see if it agrees with your beliefs - you want to be volunteering for an organization that you can believe in!
Once you have an organization in mind, contact them and see what opportunities are available. Be sure to tell them any specific skills or talents you have that you feel might help you in your volunteer work.
Also, if there is a specific position you have in mind, don't be afraid to ask if you could have it. Many times organizations like to see that you have initiative.
After you figure out your volunteering jobs, always remember that when you commit to something it is your responsibility to follow through on it. The time you commit and the skills you gain are entirely up to you. You can choose to volunteer for an organization, or even volunteer to help baby-sit for a neighbor. The main point is to get out in the community and help others; the way that you accomplish that is entirely up to you.
Your local Cooperative Extension office of your state university will have information on many different volunteer learning opportunities, such as Master Food Preserver and Master Gardener programs, as well as 4-H. These are fantastic ways to learn new skills and share them with others as volunteers in your community.
You also can start up your own organization to mow lawns for the elderly, teach children in your neighborhood to read better, etc.
Either way, remember to mark down your hours for volunteering, so that you will always know how many total volunteer hours you have. This is a nice thing to list on college applications, job applications, etc.
The best way I have found to keep track of volunteer hours is by keeping a "Volunteer Log" on my computer. You can make this into a good school project by having the student also write what types of jobs he or she did while volunteering during those hours and what was learned by the experiences.
I now have over 6,000 hours of volunteer service and have won countless awards for community service. Recently I was awarded a Proclamation from the Lieutenant Governor on behalf of the State of Alaska recognizing my contributions to my community. I was also awarded the Mayor's Community Service Award for my volunteer work. These two honors were presented to me at the 2005 Alaska National Teen-Ager Pageant as I crowned my successor to the Miss Alaska National Teen-Ager title.
The Opposite of Apathy
I truly believe that one of the worst traits that too many people in our country seem to have is apathy. I know that by encouraging people to volunteer and make a positive difference in their community that I can help others develop positive character traits that can help define their lives and significantly better the world around them - the opposite of apathy.
If you volunteer with your whole heart and truly desire to make a difference you will find that the greatest skills attained in volunteering of course are the skills of compassion, and giving of yourself. Remember what you give will come back to you - so give with all your heart and be the blessing that God has intended you to be to others!
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