This post was published first on Catholic Link and written by one of our past students, Winona D’Costa.
Another year brings fresh New Year’s Resolution attempts. Back in 2016, I made a resolution to volunteer, but at the time I just didn’t know where I wanted to volunteer. I never felt God instantly calling me to any particular volunteer program. It took a period of long discernment before I chose to volunteer for one year in a hospital volunteering program. Fast forward to November 2018, several hugs/laughs/tears later, I officially finished my final and 100th hour as a hospital volunteer.
My volunteering became much more to me than doing the tangible activities associated with volunteering in a hospital. It became a place where I found real love. Now, I’m not saying I found a handsome, God-fearing doctor and we’re now dating. Nope, I found God’s real love, in myself and in others. I learned how much love God has put inside of me to share with others. I’ve hugged babies who have come back from chemotherapy, held hands with kids whose hands were broken and touched the faces of kids with skin infections. I also learned how much love others have to offer me. I remember the first time a child called me ‘mummy’ when I was volunteering and how I felt happier than any A+ test grade could offer me.
When people ask me how I came to be a volunteer at a hospital I start to give long and passionate speeches about how much I loved it, hoping to ignite commitment to volunteering. Turns out, these people don’t need encouragement to volunteer. Questions about the practical aspects of volunteering frequently pop up:
Which volunteering program should I pursue?
When is a good stage in life to volunteer?
How do you manage the time and financial constraints that come with volunteering?
Hospital ministry, Sunday school teaching, cooking meals for soup kitchens, overseas mission trips, there are countless ways you can volunteer. Here are a few tips (in addition to praying) to help you find a volunteer program that you are passionate about.
What is Volunteering?
Very simply, for me, volunteering is about bringing real love to people. To love someone is to get to know them, spend time with them and help them. Thus volunteering is always about bringing authentic, real Christ-like love to people. When choosing your volunteer program ask yourself “how can I bring real love to these people?”
Where Can I Volunteer?
A common misunderstanding is that ‘volunteering’ is confined to things like overseas mission trips or being a youth ministry leader. Nowadays there are so many great ways to volunteer, right in your hometown. Volunteering can be cooking meals for new mums, coaching your local sports team or reading to children in a literacy program. Create a list of volunteer opportunities and then another list of some of your gifts and talents. What do you love doing and what are you good at? I know someone who loves to cook so she cooks for new mothers. Some of my friends love sports so they volunteer as coaches. I love dancing, reading, writing and playing with children. Those happen to be my talents also, so I searched for volunteering programs that would tap into what I love and use my talents.
Who Should I Volunteer For?
When choosing to volunteer and serve a particular group of people, being able to communicate and connect with them is key. Choose the segment of the population that you are comfortable spending time with. Do you enjoy talking with adults or children? Do you connect more with refugees or the elderly? The environment that you’re comfortable in is also important when choosing where to volunteer. Are you more relaxed in a hospital environment or a prison environment? Are you comfortable being in a rest home or a pregnancy shelter? The people who you encounter and the environment you’re placed can be challenging. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and trust that God will lead you!
The Hard Stuff: Money & Time
No matter what age you are, time and money are the biggest challenges when volunteering. Time always seems to be in short supply. While volunteering I was also a student studying for two degrees and also worked part-time. Setting a time frame for how long you want to volunteer for helps both with time and financial constraints. I chose to volunteer for 1 year (my final year in university) because I knew once I started full-time work my time would get eaten up adjusting from university to the working world. However, setting a time-frame for your volunteering does not mean that you cannot go back to your volunteering or continue once the time you have allocated is over.
The financial cost of volunteering is also big. For me, my volunteering cost me transport money commuting. Try to budget beforehand the costs you may encounter. People who choose to go on overseas mission trips may work part-time and fundraise for months (and sometimes years) before they start their volunteering.
At its core, volunteering is about bringing real love and serving other people. God gave us the beautiful gift of real love and a desire to bring that real love to others through volunteering. As much as it is about the other person, you are also allowed to enjoy it and be happy.
All the best picking your volunteering program in 2019.