I started volunteering at the Fairfax County Animal Shelter in Virginia about a two years ago. Life reached a point where I felt compelled to really go out and do something productive with my time, and it became clear I wanted to give back to my community that had taken care of me for so long.
Working with this group has taught me more than I ever expected. I could chat for ages about why volunteering is good for the soul (obviously hanging out with all of the animals!), but these are my four favorite reasons why I get sincere fulfillment from volunteering, and why you might want to consider donating your time too.
1. You feel connected to your community: This may seem obvious, but volunteering is a fantastic way to get to know your neighbors! In today’s world most of us stay connected via the interwebs, and folks tend to keep to themselves. By stepping from behind my screen for a few hours, I've met so many incredible, kind, and interesting people through the shelter. It’s a great way to connect through a shared dedication to a common cause, and everyone’s also really happy, because we all want to be there; if we didn’t, why would we volunteer? Being part of a positive team with a shared vision strengthens community ties so much more.
2. You lead by example and encourage other people to volunteer: This was one of my favorite outcomes, and a pleasant surprise. Simply by volunteering myself, I’ve recruited some of my friends to start volunteering in their own ways as well. One of my friends knits blankets for our foster animals, and another friend is a foster parent. One friend volunteers her time in our cat community room, and one friend adopted her dog from the shelter. When people see you doing good things in the community, it inspires other people to get involved too! We can all contribute something, and the more good we can spread, the better.
3. You learn you have so much to give, and want to do other good things: I’ve decided volunteering is a great way to learn about other interests I have. I applied the same concept in other areas of my life, and started to volunteer for projects at work. The results were the same: I met new people, learned new things I didn’t know before, and became more aware of my daily environment. I volunteer for writing opportunities, events, and help with other great causes when I have the time. If you want to do it, ask someone and volunteer. Who knows what opportunities will come out of it, or what doors it might open.
4. You make a real difference: I can’t stress this enough, but when I volunteer I know I’m helping make a difference, not just to the homeless animals, but to the people who visit our shelter. Whether they’re looking for a new furry family member, turning in a stray animal, or surrendering a beloved pet, I do my best to make sure people and animals alike know the shelter is a safe place, and they’ll be taken care of. Being that bridge of trust gives me the warm fuzzies on the inside.
Rolling up your sleeves to get involved can have an amazing domino effect. If donating your time to a special cause really fires you up, think about which organization motivates you, and do a little research to see how you can volunteer.
I chose my local animal shelter, but it can be anything that moves you to action. My sister helps with a local women’s shelter, and my mom helps with events for veterans. I know another group that sells their art, and donates part of their proceeds towards ending human trafficking.
There’s a myriad of ways to get involved; pick something you want to do and give it a go! Then promise you’ll commit at least six months, and see what happens. The six month commitment is important, too, because sometimes trying new things outside our comfort zone can be scary. I thought six months was a good marker.
I started volunteering for myself, but over time it transformed into something much bigger. What I put in, I get back ten-fold. It may sound like a cheesy after-school special, but the sentiment rings true: If we all started small by giving a little time in our communities, think about what kind of positive impact we could have all over the world.
Images via Samantha Tungul