Do you enjoy doing volunteer work?
Is there anywhere you volunteer right now?
Do I ever. And yes, there is.
I worked full-time when I lived in Ohio, and had little time for volunteer activities. My children were grown (no school opportunities) and I was involved in a long-distance relationship. My work week was typically more than 40 hours long. I also spent a lot of time at the gym.
When I quit my job, sold my house and moved to West Virginia, my imagined freelance career never really got off the ground. My partner (now my husband) worked out of town three or four days a week, and I had a lot of time on my hands. One day, a friend of my husband's family who knew I liked to knit asked if I had any yarn I'd like to donate to the federal women's prison in a nearby town.
Well. Ask any knitter if he/she has extra yarn and you're likely to get a resounding YES. I bagged up a bunch of suitable yarn and gave it to that friend, who served the prison on its Community Relations Board. Pretty soon I, too, was part of the board.
And it was through the work with that group that we were able to resurrect an AA meeting for the inmates. I've been helping out with the Bar None Group of Alcoholics Anonymous for more than a dozen years now.
Serving this group helps me as much as it helps the inmates. Maybe more. They don't seem to mind, however. They're extremely grateful for the meeting.
I taught a drawing class at the prison for a while, but when my husband retired I decided one night away each week was enough, and I turned that duty over to an inmate who was willing to volunteer her time and talent.
When President Obama was candidate Obama in 2008, I volunteered for his campaign and made dozens of new friends. I'd lived here in the Middle of Nowhere since 1997, and yet hardly knew anyone. Not having friends was the hardest part of living here.
(Volunteering at a prison is definitely not a way to meet people. Federal regulations prohibit outside contact between inmates and volunteers until the inmate has been released and off probation for a year. It's really hard to find someone after that length of time, especially when we only know each other by our first names – that's an AA thing. And if you think it's odd that I might want to be friends with former inmates, well … most of them are way nicer than at least some of my neighbors!)
I give President Obama credit all the time for putting me in the midst of like-minded liberals, here in a sea of southern West Virginia conservatives. Since that campaign I've served as president and am currently secretary of the local Democratic women's group, and I've been appointed to the board of the state federation of Democratic women.
Both of my children and all of my grandchildren are involved in volunteer activities, and I couldn't be prouder of them. I love that they get it – sharing one's time, talent and treasure is one of the best ways to enrich ourselves, our communities, our nation and our world.
How do you extend your reach? If you're interested in volunteering but don't currently do so, don't be shy. Schools, churches, service clubs, campaigns and all kinds of local organizations need you. There IS an opportunity to match your passion with a volunteer opportunity. Serve.gov is one place to begin, but you probably don't need to look too far beyond your own front porch to find a way to help.
My personal experience is that you won't be sorry.