Volunteerism (as defined in Wikipedia) is the willingness of people to work on behalf of others without being motivated by financial or material gain.
Volunteering is an important part of my life. A long time go, I couldn't have even imagined that I would be saying something like this. I can remember when I would talk to friends or co-workers who would take vacation time from work to volunteer for an event. To me, this was insanity. Taking a week or two of precious holiday time to spend all of your free time working for free was not something I would even consider.
Today, I am talking a different story. I have come to enjoy my volunteer activities. I could not have imagined all that I would get out of volunteering. The friendships, sense of community, accomplishments and pride make the amount of time committed seem insignificant. Giving back to the community has become far more important to me than having a couple of hours to myself to watch TV.
Stepping up and volunteering can be surprisingly easy. If you have ever mowed your neighbor's lawn or shoveled the snow off of their sidewalk, you have already volunteered your time. The next step is to volunteering on a regular basis is to go out an look for organizations that need volunteers. This can be as easy as spending time at a homeless shelter serving meals to the highly demanding responsibilities of serving on the board of directors for a volunteer organization.
For me, I spend twenty to forty hours a month, dividing up my time among 4 different organizations. During this summer months, this can increase to an almost full-time job. I can easily spend every weekend in the summer months volunteering at community events or festivals. Added up, this consumes any and all of my free time. This is where it gets tricky balancing work, family time and hobbies with volunteer activities. I have yet to take an entire week of summer vacation volunteering for an event but I will probably make that step this summer at the 2009 Edmonton Indy Car race. I have attended the race every year and the excitement is electrifying and I want to immerse myself in the entire week of events that lead up to the actual race. Now I'm getting sidetracked from what I wanted to talk about.
Volunteering is both very rewarding and fulfilling. When I first started, I really wasn't sure how much time I would be able to spend and wanted to limit my exposure and time commitment. I looked for something that wasn't took intensive and didn't require more than a couple of hours a month. I didn't have to look far as my local community league was looking for volunteers for various events. The time, scope of work and distance to travel was something that I could manage. From there, I got informed about what was happening in and around my neighborhood and wanted to make a difference in a positive and measurable way. That was a springboard for wanting to get involved with making my community a safer place. This turned into a journey that I look back on and can't believe where it has taken me. I eventually wound up volunteering with the Edmonton Police Service, the Community Police Radio Network and other smaller volunteer organizations. Both of these organizations look for people with skills and a willingness to give time to helping out with various activities. One of the highlights for me was getting to stand on the high level bridge and watch the Canada Day fireworks from the best seat in the house. I also discovered, by accident, a requirement for my IT skills in a unique way. I turned my professional consulting practice into a volunteer consulting practice assisting a team within the EPS. The major challenge that I face now is ensuring that I don't over commit with my my time to volunteering.
Today (Jan 19) is a very special day in the United States and the message from the new administration is helping your community by volunteering in any way shape or form. With the start of a new year, go out and do whatever you can to volunteer and make a difference in your community.
Next week I am going to focus on how volunteering can help your career by learning new job or life skills.
(if you see any typos or gramatical errors, please let me know)