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Alexander has been contributing for THS for over a year! While he attained a major in communications at SFU, he also recieved a minor in Psychology. Despite those accomplishments, Alex has also never had a full cup of coffee (crazy right?!). Alex is a lifelong sports fan and will defend his Seattle Seahawks to the death, especially if faced against a 49er fan. While Alex's long-term goal is to become a marriage counsellor, he also has a strong passion towards writing that he looks forward to exploring.

Volunteering to Make a Life Long Impact

Photo Credit: Tracey Yeager

Photo Credit: Tracey Yeager

What do you do in your life that helps create value? Every individual has different passions (be it something like music, writing or the Seahawks) and these passions can help shape your career choices. For some, myself included, my passions have motivated  me to utilize different volunteer services in order to make a difference in my community.

While I did not always know in what capacity I wanted to volunteer, it was my hope to try to assign deeper value to my life while connecting with other individuals in my community. I started volunteering with an at-risk youth, back in September of 2013 for a few hours a week through the organization KidStart (a subdivision of PLEA) in Vancouver, BC. The opportunity presents a chance to not only make an impact on a child’s life, but has made a monumental impact on my own life.

Volunteering as a whole is a monumental wheel in society with over 62 million Americans volunteering in 2013. Many organizations, like KidStart, work largely in part to volunteer efforts. While some look at volunteering as being less meaningful than a paying job, the benefits are long lasting. Studies reviewed have shown a link towards not only a happier mental health, but also an increased likelihood in finding long lasting employment through volunteer efforts. These studies help to reveal volunteering not only as something that can form your identity, but can lead to opportunities in which you help more people and perhaps inspire life-long change. By volunteering with an organization, you are opening yourself up to making a difference fueled by your passion for change.

When looking at the common link among volunteers, you may often find a great deal of passion towards making a difference. With so many organizations, it is wonderful that you will be able to find a cause that you care about regardless of the extrinsic value. These organizations can help connect like-minded people, allowing volunteer efforts and organizations to continue to grow. This passion to make a difference can be monumental in helping you understand what you care about and want to work towards. As you continue to work for an organization that you care about, it also has benefits towards your mental health. A study conducted by Saisan, Smith, and Kemp revealed that by conducting volunteering on a weekly basis: candidates reported an increased happiness level of 16%, comparable to earning an extra $50,000 a year. Volunteering has the ability to humble who you are, and can give an individual a great deal of gratitude for giving back to those who needed help.

Volunteering has also been linked to helping combat depression as you are getting constant reaffirmation that you are making a difference in someone else’s life. As the job hunt becomes harder and stressful for some, volunteering is the easiest way to show you are passionate and still make leaps towards your future. For myself, by being a bigger role model for my youth, I not only make a difference in his life but I am making a monumental difference in my own life. My skill-set going into the opportunity was simply that I was a positive person who was passionate about making a change. As time goes on and my volunteer experiences continue to grow, it is evident the emotional growth that both my youth and myself experienced. Volunteering has the ability to work as a ripple effect as well. The likelihood of my youth going onto also volunteer with the program is increased by the fact that he knows his life was aided by another person’s efforts. As a result, volunteering through KidStart can be the start of shaping my youth’s life, my life and the future of others in a positive way.

As individuals, we are also always looking for areas that make us feel good but also promote self-growth or identity formation. Whether we achieve that through education, friends, employment or otherwise there is no shortage of different mediums that help one grow. Research conducted by Morrow-Howell, Hinterlong, Rozario and Tang looked into the role that volunteering can have on gaining self-perspective. The results showed that volunteering could be instrumental in individuals in getting a deeper sense of who they are. If you are successful in an organization, elements like prestige, power, and a sense of belong are all able to be achieved through volunteer efforts. By showing a commitment to an organization, you are also increasing your overall odds at future employment either in that direct company or one that runs a similar program.

Besides the wonderful self-growth that can be achieved through volunteering, there are several life skills depending on the extent of your volunteering. For myself, wanting to work with people in need, volunteering shows a commitment to helping people regardless of the extrinsic value attached. In careers, this shows not only passion, but also dependability to follow through with something that you care about.

Volunteering opportunities may also highlight your level of responsibility to any given project as well as gives your employment an amazing insight both on what you can do and who you are as a person. An element that gets lost when your resume may be riddled with work experience, which is relevant but says something different about yourself in contrast to volunteer opportunities. Volunteering does also not need to be time consuming and there are positions at different organizations that can best fit your own life. If you are at the period of your life where you do not know where to go next (aka being an adult), volunteering may give you insight without chalking up all of your time. By being able to juggle different volunteer positions on top of employment (because money is nice), you are also showing a level of organization and ability to multi-task—qualities that are invaluable and applicable to any job employer.

With the benefits of volunteering both being emotional, as well as career-based it should come as no shock that there is a positive link towards volunteering and employment. A study conducted by Spera, Ghertner, Nerina and DiTommaso looked directly at the link stating that both the commitment, and skills developed are monumental reasons for why volunteering leads to employment. Several jobs as well do internal hiring, an element you can benefit with because of your already established links to the job. Connections with different levels of the organization can also be monumental in growing your list of resources when you are looking for that next step.

You do not need to be Katniss Everdeen to volunteer. There are positions regardless of your age or gender in different organizations. The study by Spera et al., went on to also find that for those individuals with lower “social capital” (such as lacking formal education) that volunteering can be used to help add some credence to your resume and in the process, lessening that gap between you and someone who may be better educated. All you need is that willingness to make a difference.

 It is so easy to feel that as we get older that value derives in a paycheck when so much of the world is run off money. It might be easy to look at people at ‘the top’ and think they got their automatically or with a silver spoon in mouth. Yet the truth is that life is not always easy. Careers, skills built, those come from experience, and sometimes volunteering is the best experience you can get. Organizations such as GoAbroad also represent an opportunity to travel the world, and do-so through volunteer opportunities.

By opening yourself up to an experience, purely for what it is, an experience, you may end up being astounded at the level of personal growth. Some of my best experiences, be it orientation leadership, KidStart mentor, or working with TedxSFU came from the passion to help other people and to give back to my community.

When these experiences lead to careers I will be all the better of it because I know my history is full of organizations in which I made a significant difference because I had that passion for change. These experiences continue to help me because they helped show me the values that help define me. These experiences help center me, and they remind me that I can make a difference; that sometimes, people just need a friend or someone to say that they believe in their cause as well.

Life can seem confusing some days, but volunteering is a fantastic outlet to know you are following something you are passionate about and connect with people who may be able to help. By following that passion you become aware of the difference you are making on your community and this too promotes healthy self-growth to aid you in your future.

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  1. Letter from the Editor: Spring Fever | The Hudsucker - March 3, 2015

    […] time to a cause or organization you’re passionate about. Researchers have discovered that volunteering can boost your happiness levels, and what better time to involve yourself than during these dark winter […]

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