A few weeks ago, I sat on a panel with two other representatives of nonprofit organizations to engage in discussion about volunteer needs in Athens, GA. We were invited to speak by a faculty and staff organization at the University of Georgia. This organization was interested in learning ways to contribute their time most effectively in the community.
One attendee asked me what the greatest need was in Athens. Another wanted to know what, in my opinion, was the most important volunteer position. How do you answer such questions? How do you place a stronger value on one agency's needs over another? Or one individual's needs over another?
Before I worked in the social service sector I was a student affairs professional; before that, a teacher. Needless to say, I have a heart for youth and education and believe that mentoring a child or teen could potentially be the most impactful way to use one's spare time. So that was my answer when put on the spot. Luckily, I was presenting beside a mentoring agency and a youth education-based organization, so my response was well-supported. But since that presentation, I've felt a little uneasy about my response. Was it a fair response? Was it the "proper" response since I work for an organization that recruits volunteers for over 135 different agencies, all with different needs? Is mentoring really more important that caring for the elderly, or spending time with terminally ill individuals, or restoring pride to the local community through beautification efforts?
I think the answer lies in the person asking the question. What things do you value? Which projects energize you and inspire you? Where do you want to spend your time? Your time is your resource to use as you wish. But I think the more you care about the mission behind your volunteer tasks, the more committed you are to the project and the greater service you provide to that community agency. Thankfully we are diverse in our interests. If we can channel our spare time into the needs we care about, we can piece together a web of support for the great community that we love.
So how can you connect with issues you care about? One way is to visit us at the Athens Volunteer Fair to chat with almost 6 dozen different community agencies. http://athens.patch.com/events/athens-volunteer-fair
What need will you fill with your precious volunteer time?