In a world that often feels consumed by the relentless pursuit of career and personal success, financial stability, and socio-economic status, volunteering has provided both of us with a precious opportunity to connect with our communities and give back. Through introducing us to this feeling of giving back to those communities that need support we have gotten much more from volunteering than we could ever give. Volunteering has been a source of pride and joy for many years. The circumstances that have led us to pause our volunteer journeys, have still left us with mixed emotions.
What Got Us Interested in Volunteering
[Madz] My journey into volunteering started at a young age, fostered by the values instilled by schooling that championed volunteerism and global citizenship. For me, it was a way to become a member of a community outside of my own and a means of fostering a deeper connection to the world. My college years further fueled my passion for volunteering, as I sought to continue my service and engagement with communities in need of support. Volunteering was not just about self-fulfillment; it was about making a difference in the lives of others, as well as keeping my skills fresh, and contributing to meaningful causes that spoke to me.
[Vanessa] I had already been involved in volunteering before the world was struck by the COVID-19 pandemic. I spent my free time helping disabled elderly folks with transportation and assisting at Sunday mass which was a deeply fulfilling experience for me. My experience was also driven by the joy of meeting new, service-oriented people from different walks of life who I would not have met otherwise. When the pandemic disrupted my routine and life routine, I sought a way to continue giving back, leading me to Catchafire, where I could offer my HR consulting expertise to nonprofits that were doing important work. Volunteering was about building networks, honing my skills, and supporting organizations that served communities everywhere.
The Joys and Challenges of Volunteering
[Madz] I loved the learning aspect of volunteering. Volunteering allowed me to keep my skills fresh and provided me with a safe and judgment-free environment for exploring new areas of knowledge. I’ve always seen myself as a helpful person who enjoyed making a difference in the lives of others.
‘While we learned so much during volunteering like how to communicate effectively, tailor our approaches to different people and organizations, and appreciate the urgency of certain issues in the community, it was still hard to keep up with that—and life at the same time.’
[Madz] However, for me, time became the biggest challenge. Balancing the demands of being a full-time student and working two jobs made it increasingly difficult to allocate time for volunteering. I think many volunteers – especially young volunteers – face this dilemma. I was forced to rethink my approach, choosing remote volunteering through Catchafire’s platform which was more compatible with my busy schedule.
[Vanessa] The volunteering journey I was on was not without its challenges either. While I loved volunteering and further developing my expert skills, I encountered situations where organizations seemed to forget that I was a volunteer through which boundaries and scope issues occasionally blurred the lines of my engagements. I really do feel that many volunteers want to give as much as they can, yet sometimes if volunteers are overburdened this can be hard to manage with life’s other priorities.
The Pause Button: Why We Stopped Volunteering
We both faced a common adversary that temporarily halted our volunteering: time constraints. Life, with its various commitments, left us with little room for volunteering. For some, it wasn’t until the pandemic that we were able to refocus on volunteering, realizing the need to prioritize self-care and rekindle my passion for making a difference. While we learned so much during volunteering like how to communicate effectively, tailor our approaches to different people and organizations, and appreciate the urgency of certain issues in the community, it was still hard to keep up with that—and life at the same time. We wanted to keep giving time to the critical role nonprofits play in filling the gaps in society’s systems. However no matter how passionate we were, and are, about volunteering time constraints and external commitments could not be avoided.
Our advice for others considering a pause or end to their volunteer commitments is clear: It’s okay to step back when necessary. Prioritizing one’s health or career does not diminish the value of the time we spent volunteering. There are alternative ways to support your community, and these smaller efforts can still make a meaningful impact!
The Appreciation Gap: How We Feel Volunteers Are Recognized
Volunteerism, while increasingly recognized, still faces an appreciation gap in our opinions. While there is a designated volunteer appreciation day every month and heartfelt thank-yous from nonprofits who are so in need of our help, there’s still an underappreciation of volunteerism in society. Volunteers are often asked, “Why are you doing that for free when you could be earning money?” This wide-spread underappreciation is something that we both believe needs to change if we are to deal with the current widespread volunteer shortages being felt by many.
Final Thoughts: The Paradox of Volunteering
Volunteering presents a paradox. While it fulfills the desire to give and make a difference in the community, it also rewards volunteers personally— it certainly has for us. It’s a reminder that, even in our fast-paced and often self-focused world, there’s immense value in giving back to our communities and making a positive impact on the lives of others. It’s a reminder that, even though we may pause our volunteer journey, we hope to resume it when time allows, because the joy of giving back is an unparalleled experience—please give it a try.
Vanessa Matibag (she/her/hers), is the founder of Outside Lead HR Solutions, is a seasoned HR professional with over 15 years of experience.
Madeline “Madz” O’Brien is a Post Production Coordinator for Irving Harvey and Freelance Producer in South New Jersey.
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