Got a minute? How about an hour? If you can spare some of your free time, someone can use it at least as well as you, maybe better. And when all is said and done, it might also give you an experience you might never have had while adding to the quality of your life. Sound interesting?
It’s called volunteering. And guess what? Whatever skill you have, whatever free time you can give, can be applied somewhere with a positive result and especially this time of year.
Chances are you already know of a place---maybe more than one---that uses volunteers. Whether it’s working with animals, lending a hand at a pre-school or church, a senior center or library, there are literally scores of places that not only want your help, but need it, too!
“My first job was volunteering,” said Regis University professor of sociology, Dr. Lisa Calderon. Her first foray into the world of volunteering occurred during her undergraduate years at what was then Metropolitan State College of Denver. “It was actually my first professional work experience,” she said. The job was working with a student organization. “I volunteered for projects on campus.” As the hours ticked away and projects got done, Calderon learned what a lot of volunteers learn. “I was getting as much out of it as I was putting in.”
The lessons learned those many years ago have become one of the foundational pillars of her makeup. While there’s no money in it, Calderon said while between classes at Regis, “there is the benefit of learning something new,” along with a sense of accomplishment. Another payoff in volunteering, said the Denver native, is the way it “open doors.”
For many organizations, volunteers are not only helpful but essential. At the Dumb Friends League, where stray or abandoned animals---everything from birds to four-legged animals to all varieties to reptiles---volunteers are essential. “We have more than 1,400 volunteers at our centers,” said Maia Brusseau, Public Relations Manager for the League.
Dumb Friends volunteers, she said, are more than people lending a hand. Beyond simply showing up to answer phones, clean kennels or walk dogs, many of them also act as foster caretakers for the animals they oversee each day. When the shift is over, some volunteers go home with each night with, for example, a dog or cat.
There is a unique commitment, said Brusseau, between the League’s volunteers and the animals at the various shelters. Each volunteer commits to “three hours a week and stays for six months.” A number of League volunteers, many of whom are retired, have totaled more than ten-thousand hours of their time. “Our volunteers have given us the equivalent of a hundred full time employees.”
As the population and demographics of the region have changed, the League has periodically found itself in the same quandary as many other businesses. It is constantly looking for bi-lingual volunteers. To learn more about volunteering at the Dumb Friends League, the web address is DDFL.org. There is also a $25 fee required of all volunteers. It covers the cost of a background check and uniform that all volunteers must wear.
Dianna Kunz has seen and worked with her share of volunteers as the President and CEO of Volunteers of America. Kunz, who will be retiring in a few months, has had every kind of volunteer imaginable over the years.
“I can’t even imagine the number of volunteers we’ve had,” she said. “There aren’t too many holes at VOA that volunteers haven’t filled.” In fact, there are few skills that VOA cannot match a volunteer, from driving for its Meals on Wheels program to filling bags with school supplies for young children.
If there is anxiety, said Kunz, it’s not usually because of a shortage of volunteers. There are more than 18,000 volunteers in the metro Denver area. It’s usually, she said, from people calling in wanting to make sure they can volunteer for what they may have done the previous year.
Though Kunz has served VOA as its chief executive, she began as a volunteer under the tutelage of her parents who were also involved in VOA. As a child, she recalled, “we were always delivering food baskets,” or anything else that a needy family might need. “I was blessed with caring parents.”
Today, VOA works with veterans, low income individuals and families, homeless and with so many others. The number of people who have gotten meals, shelter, been “adopted” as families or learned job skills is unknown. But many of those now working for VOA, said Kunz, are some of the same people who walked through its doors in need but ended up joining as staff. Despite having a strong core of volunteers, Kunz said, there are never too many. Anyone interested in learning more about VOA can look at voacolorado.org.
Anyone willing to share their time with no expectation of compensation, say people like Calderon, Brusseau and Kunz, can find an opportunity somewhere. Through the work of volunteers, after all, is how once tiny organizations grew to what they are today including Habitat for Humanity, Boys & Girls Club, National Organization for Women and countless others.
In the internet age, opportunities to volunteer can be found with a few clicks on a computer keyboard. Beyond that, all it takes is to find something you’re passionate about and immersing yourself in it. That is what, perhaps, the country’s most famous and energetic volunteer has done for the last nearly forty years.
Former President Jimmy Carter has been all over the world doing volunteer work since leaving office. In this country, he’s most closely identified with Habitat for Humanity and building homes for people in need. “I’ve learned that these new homeowners are just as hardworking and ambitious as I am,” said the former President. “They want the same things for themselves and their children as I want for me and mine.” And that’s why he continues to do what he does at age 94.
Volunteerism, he believes, is infectious.