Integrated Family Community Services 3370 South Irving Street, Englewood, CO 80110-1816 Ph: 303-789-0501

Which Volunteering Opportunity Is Right for You?

Volunteering your time is an excellent decision, especially considering the numerous organizations that are in desperate need of help. For practically every volunteer opportunity, there’s a base reward of doing something to help the community, environment, or other people without expecting anything in return (other than that warm and fuzzy do-gooder feeling). However, it’s important to think of the downsides to volunteering, too — not to avoid volunteering altogether, but to prepare yourself.

Volunteering With the Elderly

Volunteers are needed to help senior citizens in a variety of ways, whether it’s by delivering flowers to nursing homes, reading to people who are in bed most of the day, or playing card games with someone who doesn’t get a lot of visitors.
Pros

  • Many people in nursing homes deal with loneliness. By volunteering, you can give them the companionship and interaction they need. Even something as simple as having a short conversation can do wonders for their mood.
  • Chatting with a senior citizen can open up your world view in a way you’ve never experienced. Older people have so many life experiences and lessons to share. Not only will you be in for interesting conversations, but you’ll reap the benefits of their wisdom, too.
  • It’s easy to take your children along when volunteering with the elderly. You can do arts and crafts together, go on a walk outside, bake a batch of muffins, or put together a puzzle.

Cons

  • There can be a level of emotional attachment when you’re working directly with people in need. It can also be difficult to witness strained family dynamics without being allowed to jump in and say something. Getting involved emotionally isn’t a bad thing overall, but if it starts to wear on you or negatively affect the rest of your life, it can become a problem. You don’t want to spend your time feeling anxious or sad as you build up the volunteer experience on your resume.

Volunteering as a Firefighter

Volunteer firefighters perform many of the same tasks as paid firefighters, mainly putting out fires and responding to other types of emergencies. The role requires a lot of commitment and fortitude, but volunteers are “paid” by serving their town in one of the most valuable ways possible.

Pros

  • By volunteering, you can decide if you want to pursue a career as a firefighter. You’ll have the opportunity to experience what the job would be like without having to commit yourself to it for the long run. If you do decide to pursue a paid position, you’ll already have some background.
  • This job can be physically demanding, which means a lot of burned calories and exercise. The more you move, the more efficient your metabolism becomes, which can improve your overall health. Physical activity can also help to lower blood pressure.
  • Fire departments are a tight-knit group. You could end up feeling like family with those you work with.

Cons

  • You could end up volunteering for a disorganized fire department, which could leave you feeling unprepared, untrained, and in over your head. If you’re not taken seriously by the paid firefighters, you may feel even more lost.
  • Aside from the obvious danger of fighting fires, there are other health implications to deal with, like exposure to carbon monoxide and other toxins. Firefighters can face poor lung function, cardiac problems, and even premature death.

Volunteering to Help the Homeless

There are a number of ways to help the homeless, In addition to volunteering at a soup kitchen, you can volunteer at a center that serves a specific subsection of the homeless, like youths or those in the LGBTQ community, or pair addicts with treatment programs.

Pros

  • The volunteer work you do could truly help change a person’s life, which can truly help you feel like you are doing meaningful work. For example, you may help an individual find a job or recover from addiction.
  • Working with people in need can put things in perspective. The small things that nag you on a daily basis may seem inconsequential once you see what it’s like to really struggle.
  • Helping the homeless can go toward required community service hours for students who are going after a scholarship. Certain high schools also offer credits for volunteering.

Cons

  • It’s not easy seeing this side of life. Volunteering for the homeless can be emotionally difficult at times.
  • It can be incredibly frustrating to see how homeless people are treated, especially when you feel like the government or society should be doing a much better job.
  • You may have to work with people who have untreated mental health disorders, or expose yourself to people struggling with communicable diseases like HIV. This is often due to the lack of proper medical care homeless people receive, and it can be scary or threatening for the volunteer.

Reliable volunteers are in demand, which could mean a lot of pressure on you to commit more hours to an organization. You don’t want to volunteer to the point where it negatively impacts your own life. It’s hard to continually show up for others when you’re not taking care of yourself first. Set boundaries from the get-go by clarifying what you’re comfortable doing, your availability, and your level of commitment.

Tim Esterdahl

Tim Esterdahl is the editor of IFCS blog. He is a married father of three and enjoys golf in his spare time.

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