It’s that time of year again, where stores pack their shelves with heart shaped boxes, giant stuffed animals, and cards scribed with sweet love quotes. We’re all so caught up in having a valentine and the commercial products that we lose sight of spreading true, honest love to those around us. Something you can do this time of year and really any time of year is share the love by volunteering with non-profits in your area.
In fact, I spent 11 months as an AmeriCorps Volunteer Coordinator in my home town. You don’t have to be an AmeriCorps member to do something caring for your community. There are many volunteer opportunities for a variety of organizations that need help almost every day.
In this series I’m going to chat about how you can share the love by helping organizations in your community this Valentine’s Day and any day of the year. Perhaps you and your significant other can spend the day walking dogs at an animal shelter, or cooking food for the homeless at a local shelter – libraries, schools, and more all need assistance from people like you.
You may be wondering, what is AmeriCorps? You know, I had literally no idea before I joined. I never planned on joining, it just kind of happened. I was on the hunt for a job (as it seems I always am ever since I graduated college) and scrolled by a Volunteer Coordinator position. It caught my eye as I had event planning experience from positions I held in college. The difference is, this was a very low pay (stipend) job, as in, it was more so a volunteer position, not a job.
So any who, AmeriCorps can kind of be compared to the Peace Corps. Except with AmeriCorps you don’t travel around the world, just, you know, America. There could even be some organizations in your area that work with AmeriCorps volunteers.
I looked into this more and decided, heck, I’ll give it it a shot. This could be a great experience and look good on my resume (yeah I worry about resumes now, wow am I old).
For the next 11 months I served as the Volunteer Coordinator for Western Dairyland’s (Eau Claire office) homeless services programs. I learned a ton about homelessness, planning, and recruiting volunteers. Before serving as an AmeriCorps member, walking down the streets, seeing a homeless individual or family wasn’t too common around here. Then, as I worked with this organization it really opened my eyes to how many people were struggling in this place I love and call home. It is surely heartbreaking, but gave me a new view on these important issues right in front of me and everyone else in Eau Claire. I now want to spread homelessness awareness to those around me.
In my position I coordinated volunteers to assist with moving chronically homeless individuals and families into permanent supportive housing. This was a main focus of my position. Some other duties I had were to gather donations for our shelters and those in the permanent supportive housing program (Housing First). This program is very unique in that each person or family that is accepted receives a case manager who checks in on them each week, works on goals, and helps them achieve these in order to eventually live independently. Those accepted to the program have mental, physical disabilities and/or struggle with drug abuse. They receive support with these, gaining employment, and learning to care for themselves.
I also worked with a group called, Fresh Start. The group worked with troubled young adults by supporting them in achieving their GED and moving on towards higher education. While doing this, they build a home for a low income family every year. Fresh Start gives young adults CPR training, presentations on different careers, workshops, and tutoring. I partnered with their AmeriCorps Volunteer Coordinators to create a brand new youth geared event, consisting of a skateboard competition (judged by Passion Board Shop – I love small local businesses) and booths of different organizations they could become involved with in the community. The event named, 360 Drop-In was quite a success and tons of fun. Who says you can’t have fun while volunteering?
These experiences really opened my eyes to the struggles people have in everyday life. With just a little support, encouragement, and sharing the love I was able to make a difference in many lives. I’ve become educated about an organization I may have never realized existed and met many passionate and caring people.
You can serve as an AmeriCorps member for a few months, up to a year (re-apply after a year). I served 1700 hours, equaling a year of service. For that year, you receive an education award stipend of a few thousand dollars (wow!). This can be used to pay off student loans or continue your education. It expires after 7 years, leaving plenty of time to decide.
Volunteering has changed my life and the way I look at things. I try not to take what I have for granted and appreciate the little things.
Share the Love Series
I plan on sharing little blurbs on non-profits you can volunteer for. There will be a series of Share the Love posts on Espy Girl within the next couple of weeks.
I’m still brainstorming what non-profits to write about and share with you.
What are some of your favorite non-profit organizations you donate time or money to? Let me know in the comments. <3