Most people think of volunteering as something you do for others. But did you know that volunteering can actually make a huge difference for your own physical and mental health? It can help you develop a sense of purpose, build social connections, and improve your overall well-being. Volunteering can also enable you to network and make you more qualified for all kinds of jobs.
No matter your reasons for volunteering, it’s possible to find the opportunity that’s just right for you. Whatever your interests or expertise, or how much or little time you have, there’s always a way to give back. To get you started, here’s a small sampling of the many different kinds of volunteer options available.
1. Working With Older Adults
Volunteering with older adults can be very gratifying, and there are several ways to get involved. Many city and state governments have websites that list lots of different opportunities for working with the elderly.
People with arts or teaching experience can help out by providing entertainment or teaching classes at senior centers. For example, some senior centers have technology training programs where volunteers teach participants how to use smartphones and computers. Some nursing homes and assisted living facilities enlist volunteers to give concerts or teach art or dance.
But you don’t have to have a special skill in order to work with the elderly. Many of the most important volunteer roles are all about catering to basic needs like nutrition and socialization. You could sign up to assist a local meal delivery service, dropping off healthy meals to local seniors. Or you could dedicate a few hours each week to visiting nursing home residents.
Sadly, elder abuse is common, so protecting and advocating for seniors is also an area of considerable need. If you volunteer in a nursing facility, you can help by reporting any incidents of mistreatment you see. Or you can get directly involved with your local ombudsperson for aging and long-term care. These individuals do things like investigate long-term care incidents, consult with nursing home abuse lawyers, and empower residents and their families to resolve issues.
2. Teaching English to New Language Learners
Teaching English as a Second Language is an amazing way to learn about the world as you volunteer. ESL teachers get to meet people from different countries and learn about their lives and cultures. Opportunities are often available at local schools, libraries, and community centers, especially in cities with large immigrant populations.
The skills you learn teaching English can be transferable to later paid work and could even offer the chance to travel the world. Certain programs may cover some of your expenses while you volunteer in countries like Spain or Japan. You could learn a new language while you teach yours and immerse yourself in a whole new culture.
Whether you teach English at home or abroad, you will likely need a bit of training to get started. Most teachers take a short course that covers the basics of skills like language pedagogy, lesson planning, and classroom management. Programs are often called Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) or TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). Search for opportunities under these keywords to find the program that’s right for you.
Once you complete a TESOL/TEFL course, your program should be able to match you with relevant opportunities. Before you start looking, it might be helpful to think about what types of populations you want to work with. While both are deeply fulfilling, teaching English to adults at your local community center is very different from working with children in Thailand!
3. Promoting Sexual and Reproductive Health
Volunteer opportunities in sexual and reproductive health are as numerous as they are varied. Volunteers are often needed to answer phones at reproductive health centers and rape crisis centers. These individuals may be responsible for scheduling appointments, answering health questions, or even offering crisis counseling over the phone.
Reproductive and sexual health centers often also require people to help clients in person. If you have medical experience, you can inquire directly about specific ways you can assist. Clinics that provide abortions often have a great need for volunteers to escort patients to and from the clinic. These escorts defend patients against harassment from protestors gathered at clinic entrances and exits.
Schools and other institutions often require volunteers to teach sexual health and reproductive education. Depending on the program, you could teach children about “the birds and the bees,” work with corporations to prevent sex trafficking, or anything in between. Sex educators must be comfortable speaking publicly about sexual health and answering all kinds of questions without judgment.
Access to menstrual products is also a major area of need. Opportunities range from making sure women in developing countries have menstrual products to advocating to eliminate the tampon tax in your state. Advocacy in general is one more popular way to volunteer. For example, you could get involved in fighting for LGBTQIA + or abortion rights in your state.
4. Aiding Arts and Literary Nonprofits
Many nonprofit organizations struggle to find and afford the talent that they depend on to operate. Arts organizations, for instance, often require volunteers to assist with marketing and basic administrative functions. If you have any office experience, you may already have all the skills necessary to be a huge benefit to these organizations.
As an administrative volunteer to an arts or nonprofit organization, you might send out mailings or emails to publicize events. You can help coordinate such events as well, finding and scheduling venues or organizing food and decorations. You could also work at the events themselves, taking tickets or generally keeping things running smoothly.
If you have an interest in the arts and public speaking, you could look into becoming a docent. Volunteer docents answer museum visitors’ questions and often lead guided tours through art museums. They are typically required to undergo a training process and make a long-term commitment to the program. In exchange, they get a fairly extensive arts education and often discounts and other museum benefits.
Literary nonprofits often need volunteers to help run various kinds of reading and writing programs. For example, you could teach literacy to children or underprivileged adults. Or you might lead a creative writing group or run community readings. Founded by author Dave Eggers, 826 Network is a nationwide writing nonprofit that offers numerous ways to volunteer.
The Right Fit
When choosing a volunteer opportunity, the most important thing is finding the right match for you. Choose a role that resonates with your personality and requires skills that you can share. Volunteering works best when it comes from the heart and you can approach it with authenticity. To make the greatest impact, choose the role where you feel most called to serve.