Functional Friday: 10 Things to Take With You When You Volunteer

Oops!  I realize that this list has 13 things (and one of those is even what not to do), but when I finished writing, I couldn't decide which to leave out.  My volunteer experience this week involved a lot of hard work, sweat, people skills, and some on the job training.  I'll admit that I may not be the typical volunteer, but I had a fabulous time!  But even if learning new things, meeting new people, and trying new experiences aren't your thing, you still may be an important piece to someone's puzzle, and I urge you to find a place to serve your community through volunteering.  I have included some tips and some suggestions that may help you get started.  To find the right place and the right job, start by calling local places that interest you, a local church or volunteer agency (like the United Way) to see what might be available.  Try some things out, and don't stop until you have found your passion.  Whether you enjoy each task or not, rest assured you are helping people who may not be able to help themselves... yet!  And don't forget these things:

  • Identification - Many volunteer groups and locations need to confirm your identity for the safety of their clients. Hospitals volunteers often work around patients and sensitive equipment, so the staff need assurances that you are the person they interviewed, 'hired', and authorized to be there.  Some positions, like those where you enter people's homes (such as volunteer firefighter or CERT responder), may require you to be badged as well.
  • Jacket - Even on the warmest of days, you should take a jacket. Over-zealous air conditioning or blustery breezes could leave you chilly. While manning a booth at a community event on a warm 80 degree day, you will often feel quite cool by sundown.
  • Camera - Even with just your phone's camera, take a picture of you and a co-worker doing what you do. And make sure and get that photo in an email or on Facebook. You just may encourage a friend to get involved in their community, too. Be certain to follow photography rules, especially to protect the identity or location of clients, children, and safe house locations.
  • Hat, Sunglasses, and sunscreen - You'll want to protect yourself from sun and the elements, particularly if you know you'll be outside, like picking up trash in a local park. And you might include an umbrella, bug repellent, and a poncho.
  • Cash - Whether you need a snack from the vending machine or you decided to grab a cup of coffee, having a few dollars in cash will come in handy. You may find yourself buying bottled water or a bag of ice for summer ball team.
  • Candy and/or snacks (maybe even lunch) - Perhaps even to share, your favorite snack can provide a pick me up as you offer your time and assistance. Volunteering, although worthwhile, can be stressful and draining. Your task may be physically demanding if you are cleaning up after a storm or packing food boxes at a pantry. Make sure you observe rules for eating and sharing, especially around clients of an organization.
  • Lip balm, lotion, and hand sanitizer - Volunteer work may involve substantial personal contact and a lot of hand washing, especially if you're working in a kitchen. Protecting your skin (and staying hydrated) will keep you healthy, which may help you volunteer more.

  • Water - Stay hydrated! It keeps your mind sharp and your body healthy. Outside of a normal routine, volunteers often forget to drink enough water. Drinking a pint bottle (500 ml, 1/2 liter) every two hours is particularly critical when working I. The heat or if you're sweating. You'll need even more water if you're sweating in heat above 90 degrees, like you might experience directing traffic for a Fourth of July community celebration.
  • First Aid Kit -Scrapes and cuts can happen anywhere. Consider beefing up your kit if you'll be isolated, such as while leading a Scout troop into the wilderness. Consider adding instant cold packs, saline rinse, larger bandages and tape (think badly skinned knees) and a variety of ointments and creams (burn, anti-itch, sting, etc.) to stretch the usefulness of your current kit. Always get expert advise and training before taking on the responsibility of leading children or offering medical care and first aid.
  • Pictures - Having a few pictures of yourself or your family might help break the ice with other volunteers or clients as you volunteer. Older residents of a nursing home often love to hear about your family and to talk about their own. Avoid photos that may depict affluence (This is our yacht off the coast of Monaco.) or photos that strongly depict your residence or workplace. (Use interior shots or those without addresses or landmarks.)
  • A pen - Sure, it sounds simple, but a pen from my purse has allowed many people to 'sign in to win' at a festival or to complete an application after someone took the pen on the table.
  • Conservative Jewelry - OK, this is really more what not to wear. Dangling earrings and pricey jewels can be a physical hazard or a theft temptation. They may also leave some clients, like those in a shelter, feeling regret for their current situation if they aren't able to afford those items. If this may be a concern, ask the volunteer coordinator for guidance before you arrive.
  • Willingness and a smile - You'll find your volunteer experience much more enjoyable if you arrive with an open heart and motivation to do whatever is needed. Be certain to remember and apply any training you receive. And while you should be willing to accept tasks outside your comfort zone (like playing games in a group home for children with autism), never attempt tasks that are outside your technical skill or safety training (like performing medical procedures or operating equipment without certification.)
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