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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Gena Bigler: Giving time and expertise is rewarding; volunteering is priceless gift

Around the holiday season there is a focus on giving and volunteering. While many organizations rely on the generous spirit of the Holiday season, the need for support is year-long. There are a plethora of opportunities to help. One of the most unique, I heard about recently. A friend told me about a group that sets up and takes family portraits for free for low –income families. It struck me as such a thoughtful way to give.


Those of us fortunate enough not to struggle with affording the necessities of day-to-day living often take for granted luxuries like a family photo. Giving of your time and expertise can be vastly rewarding. Though it does require a little more commitment than just writing a check, sharing of yourself is a more meaningful way to connect with your community.


If you don’t know where to start, start with your talents. Make a list of what you feel you can share with others. List things you do routinely. Skills you take for granted may be precious to a non-profit. Google non-profits or social services in your area or call your local United Way and ask for suggestions. Ask your friends where or how they volunteer. If you have a cause you support financially, call them and ask if they have any volunteer opportunities.


Or you can do your own thing. If you have a unique talent or skill set, create your own way of giving to your community. Most nursing homes welcome amateur musicians (do call ahead). Most animal shelters are in need of volunteer to help ‘socialize’ the animals by playing with the cute cuddly cats and dogs for a few hours. If you are good with forms, volunteer to help with tax preparation. If a hammer is more your style, call your local Habitat for Humanity or Volunteers of America. Both usually have need of help.


If a less direct service approach appeals to you, offer to organize a fundraiser or a friend raiser for a local non-profit. Office help is usually greatly appreciated in many non-profits. The need for making copies and stuffing envelopes is always plentiful. Answering phones for a few hours is a wonderful way to help provide staff a few uninterrupted hours to concentrate on fulfilling their mission. Business savvy board members are a treasure for non-profits. Consider serving on a board. If you have limited time to volunteer, you could telecommute by offering to maintain a social media presence for a non-profit.


Many places are happy to have a group volunteer together. Many companies encourage their employees to volunteer and arrange for group volunteering to help build teamwork and encourage bonding of coworkers. Gather a group of friends and instead of sharing another dinner out together shake up your routine and volunteer together.


There are countless ways to give back to you community. If you are a college student preparing to write yet another research paper, ask your local non-profit if they need anything researched. You are doing the work anyway and you may be able to help out.


Volunteering does more for you than you do in the few hours you give to someone else. Sharing your talents and giving of yourself allows you to be outside your own life for awhile. It gives you perspective and distance from the trials of everyday living. It also provides the opportunity to meet very interesting and generous people.


Volunteering may not give you any financial benefit but its value is priceless. In service to others, you learn about yourself and your community. Sometimes you find you are much more valuable than you knew.


Click here to read more columns from Gena Bigler.

Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of McNay Settlement Group and serves on the board of the Lactation Improvement Network of Kentucky (L.I.N.K.). Gena would be happy to hear from you at lgbigler@gmail.com.



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