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Volunteering - The Power To Make A Difference

by Betty Soldz

"Without community service, we would not have a strong quality of life.  It's important to the person who serves as well as the recipient.  It's the way in which we grow and develop..." - Dr. Dorothy I. Height, President, National Council of Negro Women.

For hundreds of years women have volunteered to help others.  Long before it was acceptable for women to work for pay it was acceptable to do "Good Deeds". Volunteering was seen as especially suited to women's natural inclination to serve and play supportive roles in society.  The newest statistics indicate that 62% of women volunteer in some way.

In the last few decades there has been considerable discussion about the subject of volunteerism. Some women feel that they should be paid for work they do, and that volunteering takes jobs away from paid workers as well as being a deterrent to equal status of women with men.  In some instances this is a valid argument. However, the issue can be surmounted by carefully choosing the volunteer position you accept.  Normally  jobs held by volunteers in nonprofit agencies and many other places would go unfilled, due to monetary restraints, if it were not for volunteers.  Other women feel that volunteering helps them to make an impact on their community and this, in itself, brings its own reward. 

There are other rewards as well for volunteers: a volunteer job can get you out of the house and engage your interest after retirement, teach you new skills and can also be a way to expand one's social network and remain actively involved in society  Being of service to others can provide a wonderful boost to your self-esteem.

Sue, a woman  I know, spent three years as a Vista Volunteer (Volunteers In Service To America), learned new skills, became a better communicator and learned to work with different ethnic communities.  She says "these were the best years of my life."
Volunteering, if desired, can be a springboard to a new career.   It is important to take one's job seriously and to be conscientious,  whatever ones reason for volunteering.  The agency you volunteer with should take you seriously and make you feel rewarded for the work you do.

One of the things you as a volunteer are entitled to expect is to be given an assignment commensurate with your ability and desire.  Many women prefer varied assignments and to be given a certain amount of responsibility; others prefer less responsibility while still others are looking to be trained in a new job.  All volunteers should be treated as coworkers by the regular staff and when this doesn't happen, remember you chose to volunteer and do not have to stay.  There are many other volunteer jobs available where they will respect and appreciate you.

Some of the places to look for volunteer work are nonprofit agencies, religious organizations, government volunteer organizations such as the Peace Corps or Vista.  Local chapters of women's organizations, literacy programs in libraries and schools are always looking for volunteers. Many cities have volunteer bureaus to match a volunteer and organization;  museums are looking for docents and local theater and music groups usually use volunteers as ushers.  There is a great reward to these particular jobs; you get to watch the play or listen to the concert. 

I believe if one sat down and listed all the places that use volunteers the list would be pages long.  Whether you want a long or short term job, there is a job to fit any woman (and man) who wants one.

Lastly, I would like to mention that many women volunteer and don't even realize it.  Every time you assist a relative, neighbor or friend you are volunteering.  Every time you donate your time to an organization, you are volunteering.  Every time you take care of your grandchildren, you are volunteering. 

In honor of National Volunteer Week you may want to consider becoming a volunteer.  If you are already one of the 62% of women who offer some of their time to help others, society salutes you for making a difference. 

(Editor's Note:  If you go to the Issues page of SeniorWomenWeb, you will find two other organizations that offer ideas and links for volunteering, Idealist and Volunteer Match)



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