I volunteered a lot in high school, but it was always driven more by the vague feeling that volunteering was 'something people should do,’ rather than because of any real passion for service or drive to improve the world around me. It was just something I understood was expected of me, so I did it. Oftentimes, I found myself frustrated by the work I was doing--stuffing envelopes, folding laundry, and similar mundane tasks. I felt like I was being given busy work, and not actually doing anything to make a difference.
In college, as my interests and goals evolved, so too did my understanding of volunteerism. Early on, I realized that I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector, and so began to take on volunteer work and internships with nonprofits. My senior year, I began interning at the Ronald McDonald House for 10 hours a week. Here, I was in a unique position because I was technically a volunteer, but I was there far more than any other volunteer, and was able to get a real sense of the impact volunteers can have.
My tasks at RMH varied from creating fliers and running social media campaigns, to spending hour upon hour inventorying supplies and addressing thank you letters. In the beginning, like in high school, I was annoyed when I was given the more mundane tasks to do, but as time went on, and my understanding of the needs of the organization deepened, I came to appreciate both specialized work and more run-of-the-mill tasks equally. Because I was at RMH so much, I could see all types of volunteer work in context of the overall functioning of the organization, and I could truly see how important all of it was. It finally hit home that if I didn’t do the work, someone else would have to, and that someone else could very well be the Executive Director!
After graduation, I became an AmeriCorps VISTA--shorthand for Volunteer in Service to America--at Blue Ridge Literacy, and again was shown the importance of a good volunteer. Blue Ridge Literacy, quite literally, would not be able to function on nearly as large a scale as it does without volunteers. Our 100+ learners in one-on-one matches would lose their mentor, and our class offerings would be cut dramatically. Volunteers truly are the driving force behind our work.
When I moved to Roanoke, I knew that I wanted to continue volunteering, so after I settled down, I began looking into local nonprofits. The first organization I began working with was the Ronald McDonald House, a place I knew I loved from my internship at school. However, Roanoke has hundreds of nonprofits, and recently I’ve started looking into other places I can give some time. Roanoke is full of amazing organizations that need volunteers--there really is every type of position out there. I’m excited to see where my volunteerism explorations will lead me.
I often wish that I could go back to my high school self and show her just how far-reaching her work was. However, I consider myself lucky to have learned, relatively early on, how important and rewarding donating my time could be. Regardless of if I stay in the nonprofit sector professionally, I can say with 100% certainty, I will continue to volunteer as much as I am able, and I encourage others to do the same.