The Role & Benefits of Volunteering

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What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “volunteer?” Could it be an image of people picking up litter along a highway? Perhaps you thought of a past experience in which you were a volunteer. Volunteerism is an extremely important component of our society, but I’ve found many people are unaware of some of the finer complexities make up the volunteering experience. “Volunteers help people…” is a notion that doesn’t even come close to accurately describing what it means to be a volunteer. With that in mind, I’d like to share some of the more important aspects of volunteerism, both at the Bird Center and elsewhere.

Help Those Most in Need

One of the most obvious benefits that comes along with volunteering is the opportunity to provide assistance to those that need it most. Whether a volunteer is tutoring students at a local community center, hanging streamers to decorate for a fundraising event, answering phones, or writing ‘thank you’ letters to supporters, every single volunteer helps to contribute to an organization’s mission, even if it does so indirectly. At the Bird Center we have volunteers that help us with pretty much every task that come along with keeping an animal hospital and sanctuary operating smoothly. This includes our less glamorous jobs such as sweeping, mopping, and raking the beach. While most of our volunteer tasks seem unimportant or mundane, they are all jobs that need to be done, and each completed task helps our team to provide significantly better care for our patients and permanent residents. It may seem odd to connect the task of sweep our boardwalk with the work done to release an osprey that was hit by a car, but just know that the connection is real. Our organization exists entirely to care for the avian wildlife of the Upper Keys, and all of the work done by our volunteers helps us to do exactly that.

Opportunity to Learn and Work Towards Self-Actualization

More often than not, volunteers are interested in committing to serve because it offers them the opportunity to contribute to society in a realm that exists outside of their normal work routine. One of the most important aspects of volunteerism is the chance to learn new skills, as well as how to apply these new skills in other situations outside of the volunteer setting. The idea of personal growth is one paramount for many people, and getting involved with a non-profit in need of more manpower is a great way to learn about oneself and grow.

Connect With the Community

Organizations that utilize the help of volunteers are typically heavily involved with their local communities. This seems like a natural fit, given that organizations of this nature typically provide services to the community in one form or another. At the Bird Center, our volunteers don’t just help us on the ground-level, but they also act as Bird Center Ambassadors, helping to spread our work and mission throughout the Upper Keys twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Not only is it fun to be a volunteer, but it’s also fun to meet other volunteers and swap stories. Volunteers of local areas tend to develop communities amongst each other. This not only strengthens the organizations that the volunteers serve, but it fosters teambuilding, friendships, and pride within the community as a whole.

Summation

Volunteerism isn’t just important to the organizations that are being served, but it also helps to contribute to growth of communities and individual personal growth. I’m not urging everyone to volunteer exclusively with the Bird Center (but we’re always looking for new help!), but instead to become a bigger part of your community, and to give yourself a novel challenge. Take a moment to think about your biggest passions, and how you could contribute to maximizing their potentials. Education? Art? Citizen science? The opportunities are out there. Will you heed the call?

Great source for volunteering opportunities: www.volunteermatch.org

Ian Martin, Education Coordinator, 2015

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