Transformational. This powerful word describes the impact volunteering can have on your life, along with pursuing the missions of the organizations which receive the volunteer efforts. And the pandemic actually increased general interest in the concept of volunteering.
Volunteering is a great thing you can do for yourself, facilitating a connection to your community and to people with shared interests (including possible new friends). Volunteering provides satisfaction and counteracts the effects of stress, anger and anxiety. It increases self-confidence and helps you stay physically healthy. And volunteering has a profound impact on your community.
Volunteering during and after COVID-19
When the pandemic closed many organizations in March 2020, volunteering with those organizations stopped as well. “COVID-19 forced us to think outside of the box” to provide client services, according to Merideth Wagoner, director of the RSVP (Retired Service Volunteers Program) of the Northwest Ohio Area Office on Aging. “Our volunteers weren’t choosing not to volunteer; instead they were told not to volunteer, for the time being,” she explains. The agency, in response to the pandemic, began the Friendly Caller Program. “It has been a great success, especially over the last year,” she said.
Some organizations have had a surprising increase in business, and a related increase in the need for volunteers. “Parks were considered essential services during the pandemic, and visitation to our Metroparks dramatically increased over the last year,” explained Trish Hausknecht, Volunteer Program Manager with Metroparks Toledo. Many of the Metroparks’ public programs were cancelled during 2020, so outward-facing volunteer opportunities dropped off. “The personal comfort level of our volunteers has improved, and volunteers are getting back into their traditional roles now,” Hausknecht adds.
Finding your perfect volunteer spot
The key to finding a perfect volunteer spot you will enjoy and where you can have an impact requires honest consideration:
- What types of things interest you? Are you better working with people or working behind the scenes? Something you do every day, or something you’ve never done?
- What are the needs of the community? Do you possess skills and knowledge that will allow you to provide services that your community desperately needs?
- Is there something that you have always wanted to do? Try something new (if you always work indoors, you might want to try volunteering outdoors).
- What issues are you passionate about? Can you work towards supporting those issues with a volunteer position?
- Some volunteer work may require more exertion or physical activity than you are comfortable with.
- Determine how much time you can commit before you volunteer.
Pick your volunteer spot
Several local organizations serve as central stops for volunteer opportunities. Here are a few for readers to consider:
Area Office on Aging of Northwest Ohio – www.areaofficeonaging.com/volunteer – The staff identifies the best volunteer opportunities based on prospective volunteers’ interests and experience. They also offer mileage reimbursements to volunteers..
United Way of Greater Toledo – www.unitedwaytoledo.org/take-action/volunteer-opportunities volunteer with a number of local United Way-supported organizations, including helping with COVID-19 vaccination efforts, Keep Toledo/Lucas County Beautiful, Seagate Food Bank, Toledo GROWs, Lucas County Children Services, Sylvania Area Family Services and Catholic Charities, among others.
Volunteer Match – www.volunteermatch.org – This group organizes lists of volunteer opportunities for your community, based on your interests.
Toledo Together – www.toledotogether.org/volunteer-2 – this faith-based, grassroots volunteer network offers volunteer openings in a wide range of interests in local communities.
Other volunteer opportunities, near and far
Here are several other area organizations that provide volunteer opportunities available to community members:
Metroparks Toledo – www.metroparkstoledo.com/get-involved/volunteer – some positions require physical skills – like assisting in maintaining parks and trails, acting as a garden ambassador, lead walks, monitor natural habitats and participate in special programs.
Food banks and pantries – gather, organize and distribute food to area distribution sites (churches, community centers, etc.) – requires physical skills – Check for opportunities with the Toledo Northwestern Ohio Food Bank (www.toledofoodbank.org), Seagate Food Bank (www.seagatefoodbank.org), Food for Thought (www.feedtoledo.org), Kitchen for the Poor (www.kitchenforthepoor.org/get-involved), St. Paul’s Community Center (www.stpaulscommunitycenter.org/make-a-difference/volunteer), Cherry Street Mission (www.cherrystreetmission.org/volunteer), among many others.
If you love to cook (particularly Italian dishes), Lasagna Love (www.lasagnalove.org) could be for you! Created during the pandemic, the loosely organized group has volunteers prepare lasagna for delivery in local neighborhoods. To date, almost 100,000 lasagnas have been delivered to homes around the nation.
Family services programs – help with face-to-face services with families and children around the region. Some organizations include Read for Literacy (www.readforliteracy.org/support#volunteer), Toledo Lucas County Library System (www.toledolibrary.org/volunteer), Court-Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) (www.casakids.net/volunteer)
Advocacy programs – help your local political party, the Board of Elections, unions or other groups get the word out to the community. Also consider animal rescue or shelter organizations.
Build your own volunteer experience – With most any organization or business you respect, contact them and offer to volunteer. Connecting may be the first step to a perfect volunteer experience.