My volunteering life resembles a giant jigsaw puzzle, with the number of puzzle pieces constantly in flux. Unless you have my calendar sitting on your desk, it might be hard to keep track of what I'm doing these days. So, three months in, I thought I'd recap for you what has worked out, and what's still in the works.
I've learned that there are two kinds of organizations or projects for volunteers. One looks to fill its need for specific experience or special skills, such as photography, grantwriting experience, languages, law or accounting, computer wizardry or art. The other searches for qualities such as compassion, reliability, friendliness, willingness to jump in and help, and those organizations are more willing to train someone in what they need.
Also, some volunteers prefer their own comfort zone, where they are certain of their skills and wish to put them to use in a volunteer setting; others like to stretch outside their skills comfort zone.
I fall into the second category. I'm happy to use my training as a writer and editor, but I'm really looking to stretch outside my comfort zone to learn something new. And I'm a "jump in" person, willing to help with the tasks an organization needs to have done, like sorting clothing donations, or helping to prep for a fundraising luncheon. I keep my focus on the issues, and look for opportunities to work on those issues.
Here's the mix in my volunteering life right now. It will change during the summer, and then again after the summer, and I'll keep you posted on what those changes look like.
- International Institute of New England, weekly open computer lab: Working with immigrants and refugees, and with adult literacy, were my top goals, and both of those are met at IINE every week. Along with two other volunteers, I've ended up doing more one-on-one tutoring, though that can take many forms, from vocabulary exercises to practicing for the driver's exam. (One day a week)
- Project Hope ESOL classes: English conversation each week with mothers who are studying to improve their skills so they can get better, more professional jobs. This is so much fun! We do vocabulary for real-world situations, like going to the doctor or the bank, or job hunting. And each week we do some journal writing, too. (One day a week)
- Victory Programs/Boston Living Center cookbook for people with HIV/AIDS: A short-term project to put together a collection of easy, nutritious recipes. (Every day, until it's finished.)
- Boston Cares one-time opportunities: Through Boston Cares, I do occasional additional volunteer stints with organizations like Big Sister Association of Boston, Room to Grow, and the Prison Book Project.
- Friends of Watson Park: I'm helping to raise funds to restore a small pocket park at the end of my block. This is a hyper-local project.
- Little Free Library: I often forget, in my list of volunteer and community activities, to mention that my husband Ted and I steward a Little Free Library on our front stoop. It takes just a few minutes every day to straighten the books, make sure there is nothing inappropriate that has been donated overnight, and keep the selection fresh and fun.
- Political volunteering: Once a month, I host Postcards for the Resistance, an afternoon open house for those who wish to write postcards to our politicians about pressing issues of the day.
So, at the moment, that's what I'm working on, and I love the variety. I've also had a meeting with St. Stephen's Youth Programs about summer literacy tutoring for high school and college kids, and I expect that to fill the time that I'm now spending with Project Hope, which has no summer classes. And there are changes afoot in the educational program at the International Institute that will affect the type of work I do there. More about both of those opportunities next time.