Last week, I wrote an article about how to survive unemployment over the holidays (or really, ever). What I didn’t talk about was what to do with the cabin fever that can ensues when you have no office to go to and have been staring at the same four walls for weeks on end. I’m not sure I even really knew how to handle that — I’ve always had somewhere to go and something to do. So later that week, it was not really surprising when I found myself at coffee with a friend saying this:
“I cannot wait to find another job. I am getting really tired of living in my sweatpants every day.”
I have hobbies. I walk my dogs, I go to yoga, I go to networking events and job interviews, I hang out with my friends whenever I can. Unfortunately, this doesn’t fill all of the hours in the day.
I started thinking about what else to do with my time. I’ve always been big on volunteering, but hadn’t done it in any capacity for a few months. I thought about where I would like to volunteer, what time I would have once I started a new job, and was it a good time to start?
Then December 14th happened and we saw a horrific tragedy in Connecticut, affecting our nation as a whole. I wanted to be there and I wanted to help. Unfortunately, when you live half a country away, the ways that you can really help are limited. I have little money to give and I don’t live there — I don’t have the ability to go and to be with these people who have just experienced that which no one should ever have to experience and try to live with them in their pain. How futile and ineffective I felt. I want to help, but what in the world could I possibly do? I went back to my thoughts on volunteering after reading the news: I may not be able to be physically present to help in Connecticut, but I can help in other ways.
I believe that most people want to volunteer, but don’t know where to start. They don’t know what they really have time for, between their jobs and social lives, their families and friends and other activities. They don’t know what they would be good at — what they can truly lend their skill set to. They may ask themselves the same questions that I asked myself only last week. That’s why, this week, I wanted to publish a few starting points for those who are looking for how to pay it forward, but may not know how:
- Volunteer websites. I always suggest starting here. Craig’s List offers a section on volunteer opportunities and does cover the entire spectrum, but is not necessarily specific to a cause, skill set, or group of people. Sites like volunteermatch.org, allforgood.org, and smartvolunteer.org are dedicated to advertising different volunteer options within your area. If you do an advanced search, you will often find possibilities within 5-10 miles of your area and also be specific to causes or people groups.
- Start in your own backyard. Do you have friends, acquaintances, or neighbors that might need help? Maybe you know a single parent that works a lot and just wants someone to watch out for her children or animals. Or perhaps you or one of your friends knows of an elderly person that has a difficult time running errands for herself. Ask around about these kinds of options: any dog-walking, grocery shopping, babysitting, etc. that you might be able to do this season will be more than appreciated by people who may not have the time or capacity to complete these tasks themselves. These tasks may seem mundane to you, but may mean the world to another person.
- Tis the season! With the holidays upon us, there are exponentially more volunteering options available. You can purchase and give gifts or meals through a variety of organizations like Project Angel Heart, Toys For Tots, and Angel Tree, for starters. You can also volunteer your time with the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and your local soup kitchens to either fill food baskets or serve a holiday meal to those in need.
- Remember, volunteers come in all forms. A friend of mine told me recently that when she formerly volunteered with the Boys and Girls Club of America, she was always scared on her volunteer days — she didn’t feel like she was the strongest in interacting with the kids. The actual interaction and conversation is not for everyone — think about what your skill set is in your working world and your personal world, and bring that to the volunteering world! Would you rather give money or time? Would you rather interact directly with people or help in administrative ways? Can you pack lunches but not deliver them? Great – these organizations need all kinds of personalities to succeed and be effective. Use your skills to help them do just that!
Right now is the time to think about how to give back. As Career Girls, we all have more than enough to offer the world. Where can you use your skills best? There are plenty of opportunities that don’t require much time or money, so this holiday season, think about where you would like to dedicate your resources. Our world functions best when we use what we are best at to give back to those who need it – how will you use your power and responsibility through the end of the year and beyond?