Have you ever noticed a problem in your community and said, “You know what? I think they should do to fix this.” Consider changing the question to “What can I do to help?” One answer is to volunteer, which leads to another question: volunteer for what?
Many people begin by searching for an organization that they feel they “should” join. Is it big and important enough? Instead, look for a group that reflects your true, ongoing interests. It’s often a very obvious choice. If you love to read, then join a literacy organization. Business people may be interested in their local chamber of commerce, and gardeners are frequently drawn to beautification societies.
However, a satisfying volunteer experience may not be such a direct match. I’ll use Keep Islip Clean as an example, since that’s certainly the organization I know best.
We have several thousand volunteers throughout the year who pick up litter. No, they’re not litter connoisseurs. They’re people who care about a clean and beautiful community, and litter cleanups directly benefit what they value. Volunteers who have a strong interest in a healthy environment often extend beyond litter cleanup and join KIC for the International Coastal Cleanup, or our recent sneaker recycling drive for NIKE. Project Bloom draws gardeners, the Great American Cleanup is a great event for people who are interested in an Earth Day project and the KIC Clean Team is a good outlet for groups that are happiest working on a variety of things.
I use these examples to illustrate that an organization may have many different types of volunteer opportunities under the umbrella of a larger mission. An advocate for a beautiful community, an avid recycler, a gardener and a marine enthusiast can all find a home with KIC.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently noted a one-half-of-one-percent decline in the number of volunteers for 2010. That may not sound like much, but it translates to a significant amount of people who are no longer working for the good of their community. Combine that with the cut in funding that many not-for-profit organizations are currently facing and you’ve got a noticeable, negative impact on our quality of life.
So seriously consider giving your time to a good cause. Think outside of the box. A resident interested in a charming Main Street can work within a chamber of commerce just as effectively as a business person. An individual who likes to teach may enjoy literacy tutoring as much as an avid reader. A gardener can extend their efforts beyond planting flowers by beautifying their community in a graffiti paint-out. What are your interests?
Nancy Cochran is the executive director of Keep Islip Clean.