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Some simple tips on starting your volunteering journey.

Sadly, volunteering has been under decline in America for the last decade, and only made worse by COVID. It’s time to change that, to step back up, to get back in. If not for the world, just for yourself.

So where do you start? It’s a hard question to answer because it’s a very personal one, individual to you, but this might help:

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First of all, don’t think you’re being selfish by doing this for yourself. Most volunteers start with a dual drive of helping others and doing something that made them feel better, more useful, more helpful. It’s human nature and there’s nothing wrong with it.

It’s important to choose something that you know you will enjoy doing and that you’ll be able to do often. If it’s not something that you think you’ll enjoy, or it’s something that you won’t have a lot of time to devote to, that’s going to severely limited the benefits that you get from it.

Think for a moment what you would like to get out of it too. Would you prefer to work with the homeless, or the elderly? With disaster relief, with animal rescue? With vulnerable kids? Again, the more relevant and personal the type of volunteering is to you, the more you’ll do it, the more you’ll benefit, and the more others will benefit to.

And don’t rule out remote volunteering where are you might not be physically present and meet other volunteers face to face. You can still get many of the other benefits, and still make those all-important friendships and social connections.

Be realistic – it might take some time to find the right fit and ramp up your involvement. And whatever decisions you make, make sure that you’re genuine and authentic. And if you’re comfortable, it’s OK, maybe even helpful to admit that one of the reasons or even the main reason you’re doing this is because you need it too.

You could even think about creating a plan. List all the volunteering opportunities that interest you, how much time do you think you can devote each week or each month, whether you prefer live or remote, how far you’re prepared to travel, all the different skills and resources you think you can bring, anyone else you think might be interested in joining you and so on.

That simple process of thinking and writing should not only make it easier, but guess what? The both grade for brain growth too.

Don’t do it alone. One of the best ways to get involved in volunteering and to stick with it is to do it with other people, and ideally family, friends, and neighbors. Not only will they give you more encouragement to start and stick, but they can also be your support group for the long term.

Give it time. Volunteering can be a challenge, emotionally and physically. It might also demand a lot of your time. So take your time, try lots of different things, tweak your volunteering so that it works best for you too. But whatever you do, don’t give up.

Inspire others. Share your volunteering efforts and experiences so that others might be inspired to do the same. Volunteering is one of those infections that only brings good things, and often the only way that infection will spread is if those who have started in volunteering share it with others.