Have you ever seen a problem in your community and thought, “I think I can fix that”? Or perhaps you noticed a previously overlooked opportunity, rife with potential. Have you ever considered the effect you could make in others’ lives?
Maybe it seems like a drop in the bucket — like no one’s watching or no one cares. Or maybe it feels like you’re back in high school trying to complete your community service requirement — more daunting than rewarding. But I challenge you to give it another look: You might be surprised how good it feels to give back when you find a cause that fits your skills and interests.
Growing up, I watched my parents dedicate their time and energy to helping others, volunteering in spaces that meant something to them. So as an adult, I seek to do the same, actively supporting organizations and causes I’m passionate about. This includes moving my city forward.
One aspect of St. Louis that I love is its growing immigrant population: There’s something incredible about bringing together cultures from around the world to create a community. To help foster that community, I started St. Louis Pickup Soccer, combining my passion for soccer with my passion for diversity and inclusion. Today, it includes more than 5,000 members, representing all walks of life and playing soccer across the St. Louis region.
My volunteer commitment to St. Louis Pickup Soccer allows me to pursue my own interests while helping others do the same, and I get to do it all while helping improve our community.
Of course, pickup soccer games won’t be everyone’s passion — you have to find your own. Recognize your passions and skill sets, and then identify people who share them (and the organizations or communities that relate to them). Once you’ve identified your cause and its audience, opportunities to create change and benefit the community will start to crystallize.
Types of Organizations to Look Into
Every region has opportunities to get involved in a space that interests you; it just takes time and testing to find the right ones. The key is finding a local organization that meets your specific interests. Here are four volunteer sectors to consider when you’re looking for the next way to affect not just your community, but also yourself:
1. Community development
My passion for working with immigrant communities allowed me to participate in development organizations, join local boards that support immigrants, and ultimately meet volunteers who share a similar passion and drive. I’ve developed many friendships in this way, and as it turns out, the Mayo Clinic suggests volunteering is revered for that very reason: The practice builds long-lasting relationships. It’s been so rewarding to watch others grow by building relationships through things like coaching club soccer or planning an event.
Volunteering in the community development sector can include serving your local chamber of commerce — St. Louis, for instance, has a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that promotes the well-being of the city’s Hispanic population, welcoming volunteers with open arms — or other organizations that focus on your passion. For example, I work for the St. Louis Mosaic Project and partner with Global Detroit, both of which are focused on attracting and retaining foreign-born newcomers. These organizations promote richer, more diverse economic development throughout their respective communities.
2. Public education
Public education is near and dear to me because of my personal experiences. I followed an unusual educational path; although I was a resident of St. Louis County, I was part of the voluntary transfer program that sent me into St. Louis City’s public school system. This experience serves as the foundation of my passion for public education. I’ve found that joining public education boards, volunteering as a career mentor, and sharing my own experiences with members of younger generations are among the most direct ways I can impact my community’s future.
For students of all ages, a parent or adult showing up and being involved makes a significant difference. A Center for Promise study found that increased adult interaction in school leads to an increase in graduating students, coupled with a desire to be involved in their communities. This, in turn, instills a sense of purpose in our young people, potentially alleviating future stressors of adulthood.
3. Arts and culture
Getting involved in arts and culture organizations is so necessary. The arts transcend race and class, providing an outlet for people to process current and past events and share stories that might otherwise go untold. Studies have shown that increased cultural resources lead to better population health, improved education, and better quality of life — especially in lower-income communities.
Groups like Mural Arts Philadelphia, The Regional Arts Commission of St. Louis, and other public arts programs help artists, organizations, showrooms, schools, and arts spaces collaborate to promote local public art and cultural institutions. Access to art affects all sectors in a community, and volunteering your time to promote the arts and culture can only benefit your heart and mind.
4. Sports organizations
As I previously mentioned, sports are a great unifying interest. Some people love the camaraderie, some love the challenge, and some simply like watching the competition.
Finding or starting a group or league brings people together who might not interact otherwise. Volunteering for a local sports radio station, podcast, or blog has the rewarding benefit of keeping other fans informed, and coaching a team allows you to share your expertise and enthusiasm with others — not to mention the benefit of staying hip with young people.
And it’s no secret that team development and physical activity alleviate stress and build confidence, so what are you waiting for?
Why It’s Worth It
Supporting local organizations built around your interests has many social, professional, and personal benefits.
For young professionals, there is no better way to build your network, gain experience, and learn skills that will propel you in your career. These experiences might even lead to opportunities to meet a mentor or receive a great job offer. In fact, volunteering for certain organizations actually enhanced my ability to do my job.
When you do find the right service opportunity, you’ll know: It won’t feel like work, and it’ll come with boundless rewards. Most importantly, you’ll lift your community in ways that matter most to you, and you’ll leave your positive mark on the world.