Volunteering: Not Just a Gift for the Holidays

by Tara Fiechter-Russo

The holidays are a time when people show their generosity and want to help those in need. From before Thanksgiving through Christmas, you would be hard-pressed not to find a drive of some sort happening, whether it be a food drive, a clothing drive, or anything else that can be collected and donated. The sound of a bell being rung outside of your grocery store by a Salvation Army volunteer is a clear sign that the holidays have arrived.

While it may be easy to get caught up in the spirit of giving during the holidays, it’s harder to volunteer your time or belongings the rest of the year, but the people experiencing hardship still need your support. Our schedules are busy and we function within our own worlds each day, rarely connecting to the communities outside Friedman on a regular basis. Time (or lack thereof) is the number one reason students cite for not volunteering.

However, it is possible for students to squeeze community service into their graduate school schedule like some of our peers have done. Tara Wommack, a second year Agriculture, Food, and Environment student (AFE), volunteers with STARS (Student Athletes Rising) once a week on Saturday mornings, and once a month leading nutrition workshops.

“Saturdays were my free day, so I have plenty of time to plan the workshops and help in the classroom for a few hours during the morning,” she says.

Jen Obadia, a PhD Candidate in AFE, volunteers teaching nutrition and food policy once a week for 15 weeks at Beacon Academy. “The school really wanted to include nutrition in the curriculum so they worked with me to schedule it first thing in the morning instead of in the middle of the day — that has made it a lot easier. But if something is a priority, you do it,” she says.

While she’s not teaching, Julie Dunn PhD, a visiting professor at Friedman, volunteers for two organizations: Books for Brazil (www.booksforbrazil.org ), which purchases and distributes children’s books to underprivileged children in Brazil with the object of increasing literacy, and Community Rowing Inc. (CRI), which is a nonprofit rowing club that tries to make rowing accessible to people of all ages and abilities.

“If you volunteer for a specific event that an organization holds (like a fundraiser, etc), the timing becomes predictable and after doing it year after year we’ve figured out how to be a bit more efficient,” she says.

Good time management skills are varied and can be tailored to your personality.

Life is all about priorities
Jennifer Obadia said it best, “If something is a priority, you just do it”. Lack of time may not be the issue for not volunteering. It may be that volunteering is not a priority in your schedule at the moment. But once you find ways to manage your schedule, volunteering will find it place.

Scheduling Models
The 9-5 Model
I like to make my weekday schedule into a workday schedule by doing my activities within the constraints of a 9-5 day. This means if I have a 9-noon class on Monday then I have noon – 5pm to put other things in my schedule, like homework or meetings or work or volunteering. After 5pm is time for things I need to get done for the next day, which might be more homework or calling friends whose birthdays was the week before. Every day of the week will have a different slot open based on your class schedule, but the one thing that won’t change is the “start” (9am) and “end” (5pm) times of your weekdays.

Blocking
It may be easier to designate different blocks of time toward different tasks every week. Scheduling in blocks of time with specified purposes allows you to have a routine that you can make more efficient each week. Try using Google Calendar to help block out time, color-code, share your schedule with other people, and send e-mail reminders that you have to do something. First put in all of your firm commitments like class and work. Then see where all of your empty spaces are and make a list of what else you want to be a part of your day, including homework, meals, exercise, social time, and volunteering. Try different ways of fitting things in and pilot each schedule you create for a week to see which one you like the best.

Tiers of Planning
I like to work with tiers of my schedule, meaning I have daily, weekly, monthly and semester schedules. Start broad with a 4-month calendar poster (bought or hand-drawn) on your bedroom wall that has all your class assignments and major events. This gives you perspective on the semester. Then have a monthly calendar that puts in more detail than the semester poster, like work and timelines for papers and other deadlines. Weekly schedules have even finer detail with all the little assignments and personal errands that have to get done that week. Also, try and break down big assignments into smaller pieces, so you can incorporate them into a weekly schedule instead of cramming everything in the week before it’s due. Your daily schedule includes all the things that have to get done by tomorrow or else. A planner is useful for daily, weekly, and monthly depending on the layout of the planner.

Weekends are not just for homework
Most people don’t have class on the weekends, so they should be full of discretionary time. Why not try to volunteer? It’s a great way to combine socializing with helping your community. You can be strategic about how you use the weekend:

  • If you use Saturday to volunteer, you can have Sundays to get work done. There is nothing worse than volunteering and the whole time you’re thinking about all the work you have to do for Monday.
  • Or if you want to get work done on Saturday for Monday, then you can volunteer on Sunday without worrying about work, and you’ll have a day of non-class items before the week starts up.


Realistic commitments

Some of us may be better at managing our time than others. For those who can prioritize volunteering and fit it in on a weekly basis, nice work. For those who can’t, let’s figure out some other ways to consistently help your community:

  • Once a month, pick a charity to donate items. You will be forced to let go of some of your material belongings and simplify your life. It will also be a good way to get rid of those things that you want to get rid of, but just can’t throw away.
  • Combine an interest with the needs of an organization. Do you like writing or graphic design? Plenty of organizations need help with their websites and newsletters. You can work at home on your own time and do something you enjoy, all while helping a cause! Do you like taking walks on Saturday mornings? The major walk-a-thons, for breast cancer, autism, etc, come to most cities every year. You could also be a dog-walker for an animal shelter. What’s really important is that it’s something that you like to do, otherwise it won’t be sustainable. So, be creative in combining hobbies you already have with volunteer organizations.
  • Raise awareness. The internet is your friend. Bring an organization of your choice to the attention of your friends and family by blogging, facebooking, or just plain e-mailing. Maybe they’ll donate or volunteer with the organization, and you’ll have lent a helping hand.
  • Think big. Choose four organizations (each one addressing a different interest you may have) that have a big event every year. Evenly space them out throughout the year and just keep going to those year after year. When you have a busy schedule, the 3 months between each event will go fast. Events always need volunteers to attend, but don’t volunteer to plan an event unless you have the time.

It is very important to make sure that you do not over-extend yourself. Julie Dunn notes that “it’s better for both you AND the organization to spend less time and do a really good job, rather than overextend yourself. Unreliable volunteers can be worse than none at all.”

Resources:
STARS
Opportunities: Be a coach for the basketball teams! Basketball skills are not necessary, just coaching/mentoring/motivating! Coaches also work in the classroom, where the kids stay in their teams and can score points for the game by behaving well and answering questions.
Commitment: once a week
Getting Started: Visit www.studentathletesrising.org and you can contact the staff directly via email.

Beacon Academy
Opportunities: Dietetic Internships or RDs willing to provide nutrition counseling to a few specific students that are overweight and have particularly poor eating habits; also math tutors to work with students once a week.
Commitment: Nutrition Counseling (varies) and Math Tutor is once a week
Getting Started: Contact the volunteer coordinator, Laura Coleman, at lbcoleman_99@yahoo.com or by phone: 617-320-8412.

Community Rowing Inc.
Opportunities: Be a tutor for the G-Row program, which provides a rowing program and academic tutoring for inner-city girls, and the Adaptive Rowing Program for people with disabilities.
Commitment: Varies
Getting Started: Visit http://www.growboston.org/ for more information on G-row and visit www.communityrowing.org for more information on the Adaptive Rowing Program.

Greater Boston Food Bank
Opportunities: Sorting food that comes in
Commitment: as your schedule permits
Getting Started: Visit http://www.gbfb.org/volunteer/individuals.cfm to fill out an application or just walk-in on a Saturday morning (after calling to make sure spaces are available)

MSPCA Angell
Opportunities: Help shelter animals by walking dogs to advocating for just laws
Commitment: Varies by position
Getting Started: Visit http://www.mspca.org/site/PageServer?pagename=waystphelp_Volunteer to find out about all the volunteer openings across the shelter locations and to fill out an application.

FACE Africa
Opportunities: Event Coordinator to plan FACE Africa’s annual Clean Water Benefit Gala scheduled for March 2010 in Boston
Commitment: See position description at http://www.idealist.org/if/i/en/av/VolunteerOpportunity/184003-301/c
Getting Started: Email resume and cover letter to contact@faceafrica.org

Jumbo’s Kitchen by Tufts DotWell

Opportunities: Teach Dorchester Youth about nutrition
Commitment: Lessons are taught on Friday afternoons
Getting Started: Contact Dawn Underraga, who is starting the new student group here at Friedman or contact DotWell or the Dorchester House to volunteer with them directly

Visit Idealist.org to search for volunteer opportunities in areas that interest you and that fit your schedule!

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