Volunteers Do it for Free…

Many of us did some kind of volunteer work in high school because we thought it would look great on our college applications. I know I did. I was all over the place. I was part of the community service group at my high school; I tutored kids on the weekends; I even got to school at 7 am (a whole hour early) on Wednesdays to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a DC soup kitchen.

However, I think many of us, myself included, stopped volunteering (or cut back significantly) once we actually got into college. Whether this was because you didn’t see the point anymore or because there were greater demands on your time–like facebook stalking. Believe me, I understand both arguments. They seemed so logical to me freshman year, but then again, so did going out in heels in inches of snow and ice. My arguments began to falter once I got involved with CHOP (Colgate Hunger Outreach Program). After doing some work in soup kitchens in upstate New York, I began to feel very strongly that people should have a chance to have at least one decent hot meal a day no matter what their income is. I realized that the problem with volunteering in high school was that there was no focus; we did things just to do them. Volunteering becomes a fun and worthwhile activity for people if they believe in the cause. The hard part is actually figuring out what cause you’re really passionate about. So, I encourage everyone to start volunteering in any capacity. Try many different things until you find something that you really love doing. I’m clearly a little biased toward soup kitchens, so here are four reasons why I think you should start your search at a soup kitchen:

Does a Body Good
Numerous studies have shown the health benefits of volunteering. It can relieve stress, extend life expectancy, and give you some kind of endorphin or adrenaline rush. I just think of it as one less time I need to go to the gym in a week.

Resume/Cover Letter Builder
Volunteering, particularly at a soup kitchen, can build or further hone skills that you already have. For instance, at soup kitchens, you will interact with people and other volunteers that are hard to get a long with or are a little weird. Your ability to communicate effectively with them is a great example of interpersonal skills and ability to work well with others. You could also use a soup kitchen experience as an example of time management skills, ability to take direction well, and flexibility on your resume or cover letter.

You Never Know Who You Will Meet
I got one of my nicknames, Baby Amazon (BA for short) from volunteering at a soup kitchen. At another one I learned all about the history of the Colgate football team—something I never would have known or bothered to figure out on my own. It was actually pretty interesting. Soup kitchens give you the opportunity to meet new people and hear stories that you wouldn’t necessarily get to while on campus. Part of this has to do with the nature of the work. There are also the odd times when soup kitchens have too many volunteers, however, and during those times your job could be to sit and talk with people. (This should be really exciting for anthropology or sociology majors.)

Free Food
If free food isn’t a good enough incentive to volunteer then I don’t know what is! This is not a given, but there are times when there is a lot of leftover food that can’t be used the next day. When that happens the volunteers are often asked to help out more by “getting rid” of the leftovers.

Emily is a recent grad of Colgate University, where she studied International Relations and Art History and volunteered at the Friendship Inn and with the Colgate Hunger Outreach Program. She loves to bake cookies.

Originally posted on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

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