Jun 1, 2011

Community Service Opens Doors

While putting together plans for the summer, don’t forget to leave quality time for volunteer activities or projects. Incorporating service into your life is incredibly rewarding and almost always habit-forming. In fact, it can open doors for life.

But as you consider volunteer options, look for opportunities that fit you—your interests and skills. You don’t have to travel across the world—look local. You can be deeply involved in a one-time event or you can sign-on for a couple of hours each week. It really doesn’t matter.

And yes, it pays off handsomely. By sharing your time and talent with others, you:

  • Do some good. As a volunteer, you have the opportunity to make a difference—change lives, support a cause, or improve your community.

  • Test-drive career options. If you’re thinking about medicine, teaching, or even large animal husbandry, spend volunteer hours in a clinic, a school or on a farm. Volunteering opens new vistas and provides opportunities to explore different career paths.

  • Polish job-readiness skills. Being dependable, on time, and responsible will not only make you a great volunteer but will also prepare you for entering the world of work. In addition, you can develop communication, organization, and invaluable “people” skills, all of which make you incredibly employable.

  • Expand your network. Volunteering is a great way to make new friends and build solid connections to businesses, schools, or other community-based organizations. These are the kinds of relationships that tend to grow and blossom, particularly if you find yourself working in a team or supporting a cause. A byproduct of the experience can be a strong personal recommendation for college or a future job.

  • Challenge your comfort zone. If life as a high school student has become a little too boring and predictable, try volunteering in a totally unfamiliar part of your community or serving a population with which you don’t ordinarily come into contact. Expose yourself to new ideas, challenges and situations that will help you grow as a person.

  • Hone leadership skills. As a volunteer, you may be presented with opportunities to build supervisory, management, or decision-making skills as a team leader or project organizer. These are talents that colleges and future employers value highly.

  • Upgrade college portfolio. Yes, colleges want to see that you’ve done something more with your summer than Facebooking. To volunteer is to give strong evidence of character, commitment, and motivation—all of which are plusses in the college admissions process.

  • Discover an essay topic. The best college essays flow out of personal experience. In fact, essay questions often ask about significant achievements, events, people, or encounters—all of which may be found in the act of volunteering.

  • Learn something. You learn by doing. And if you’re lucky, you may even be offered specific skill training you can take with you long after the event or project is completed.

  • Do some good. This cannot be overstated.

In her recent commencement address at St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Deputy Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet pointed out that, “We grow by challenging ourselves—by stepping out of our comfort zone.” And she adds, “…the more you understand about the community around you, the more you understand about yourself….More than that, inevitably, you realize you got far more than you gave.”

So step up and get involved. You really can make a difference!

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