Most people know that volunteering is the “right” thing to do. But I didn’t really understand the impact that giving back could have on my own health and well-being — until I saw the benefits firsthand.
Four years ago, I was at a standstill: about to start my second year of grad school, but unsure of whether or not I was on the right path, or what I really wanted to do. Plus, it was summer break, and with more time on my hands than I usually had, I found myself feeling a bit lost and seeking greater meaning in my life.
So I decided to volunteer.
Community service wasn’t an entirely new concept for me. I attended a progressive middle and high school that required community service as part of the curriculum, so I’d done plenty of volunteering in the past. Working with kids was a highlight: I worked in various pre-schools and elementary schools, and by the time I reached the eleventh grade, I even got to teach English to elementary students in Uruguay.
I loved every one of these experiences even more than the last, and knew I wanted to continue working with children. So I scoured the internet, aggressively googling “Volunteering With Children.” Initially, I found a few one-off opportunities — playing math games with kids (to be honest, I likely learned more than they did — math is not my strong-suit), and teaching senior citizens and English language learners computer skills. But none of these were consistent programs, or exactly what I wanted to be doing, so I kept looking.
And then, one day, putting the perfect mix of keywords in my Google search bar (“volunteer with children writing Brooklyn”) led me to 826NYC, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting students with writing skills via after-school tutoring and creative workshops. Finally: My dream volunteer opportunity come true!
Within a few weeks, I’d attended orientation (where I fell even more in love with the organization) and began tutoring. Within a few months, I was volunteering at in-school programs, and fast forward four years: I still tutor, and now serve on the Volunteer Committee and board of the organization.
Needless to say, volunteering made a very positive impact on me — inside and out. Before I started volunteering, I felt lost and alone. But once I began volunteering, I felt a sense of purpose again and more connected to others. According to research, volunteering strengthens participants’ social networks. And I definitely found that to be true: I’ve made countless new friends through my various volunteering experiences, and I’m still counting! Working consistently with one organization, like I have, gives me an even stronger sense of community.
Even though I have a lot less free time these days — I’m in grad school, and working — volunteering is such an integral part of my life. In fact, during my Thrive Entry Interview, I was asked by my manager what’s most important to me outside of work. I noted two things, in particular: artistic expression (like writing and drawing), and volunteering. I made it clear that the ability to volunteer and maintain my relationship with 826NYC was of utmost importance to me, and my supervisor was incredibly understanding of that. And now, I’m a more efficient worker, a better time-manager, and a more fulfilled human — yes, all because of volunteering.
Stay up to date or catch-up on all our podcasts with Arianna Huffington here.