Guest Blog: Why Volunteer?

by Natalie Martinez

Winston Churchill is known for saying, “We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.” According to Oxford Dictionary, the definition of the verb “volunteer” is to “freely offer to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task.” Unfortunately, this rarely happens in today’s society. Instead, people regularly think in a way that asks “How can this act benefit me?” Volunteering encompasses civic duty, several benefits, and enhancing an individual’s personal experience.

Youth leader and guest blogger Natalie Martinez (center) has been volunteering with HandsOn Broward since 2011.

Youth leader and guest blogger Natalie Martinez (center) has been volunteering with HandsOn Broward since 2011.

Therefore, volunteering can be done at any age. However, I personally believe it is best to start at a young age. Also, it’s great for America’s youth to begin participating in civic duty, such as volunteering young, since they are not yet able to vote or be a part of jury duty. Overall, volunteering is a great way to give back to the community. I specifically urge all high school students to volunteer not only because it is a requirement to graduate, but because of the many things you can learn by volunteering that help better prepare you for the future. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the volunteer rate declined by 1.1 percentage points to 25.4% for the year ending in September 2013. The Bureau also states that “The volunteer rate in 2013 was the lowest it has been since the supplement was first administered in 2002.” Together, we can ensure that this low volunteer rate is never a matter of fact again.

A few of the many benefits of volunteering include learning new skills, such as communication, along with gaining a sense of motivation and achievement. Also, although this might sound a bit cliché to some, but there truly is a “feel-good feeling” you receive after completing a service project. New experiences, such as creating a vegetable garden, are very common to undergo while volunteering. However, many people prefer learning more about an impact area or organization that interests them as compared to one that does not. For example, if a person is interested in becoming a vet, then that person should begin volunteering at an animal shelter or hospital. This would not only help the person gain experience, but also guide the person as to whether or not it is the correct field of study for them. By volunteering, I have met a variety of people. In fact, I still keep in contact with many people who I have met through volunteering; some have even become mentors and life-long friends to me.  Lastly, you boost your career opportunities by volunteering. Recent surveys conducted by TimeBank reveal that 73% of employers would hire an individual with volunteering experience over one without, and 94% of employers believe that volunteering can be added to skills on a résumé.

Attending a religious school during my early school years, I was taught the importance of giving back to the community and helping others. Everyone from teachers, coaches, the office staff, and head of school greatly influenced me. Through volunteering I have personally experienced many unique opportunities. Last summer, I began volunteering with a local politician. Through this unique experience, I was able to meet people I wouldn’t have met any other way, and learned about several career options that may interest me in the future. Also, I am currently assisting this politician as a volunteer in his re-election campaign. A few of the tasks that I completed last summer and am currently completing include writing proclamations, attending Commission Meetings and public hearings, and inputting candidate petition data. Volunteering with HandsOn Broward, which is the largest non-profit volunteer agency in Broward County, has also exposed me to many unique experiences that have helped shaped me into the person I am today. In fact, there is a full-time employee at HandsOn Broward who is their Chief Financial Officer, and this gentleman has worked for them for years now, but has never accepted a single paycheck from the agency. The reason for this is because he is a dedicated volunteer, along with his wife who also volunteers at a non-profit agency full-time. This is a perfect example that illustrates the fact that any person at any age can volunteer. A few of the many opportunities that I have experienced through HandsOn Broward include meeting Florida Governor Rick Scott, learning about the environment, participating and co-facilitating in leadership classes, becoming a project leader, and assisting the homeless, elderly, mentally handicapped, and pre-school age children. Another organization that I have worked with is named Bit by Bit, which is a therapeutic riding center for mentally and physically disabled children and veterans. By volunteering, I have had the opportunity to witness fellow volunteers grow socially and mentally.

It is because of all these experiences and benefits that volunteering is important not only for personal development, but for the good of the community. Therefore, I highly urge everyone to volunteer. If you do not have time, make a goal for yourself that you will begin volunteering at least once a month or more. In the words of Ronald Reagan, “The work of volunteer groups throughout our country represents the very heart and soul of America. They have helped make this the most compassionate, generous, and humane society that ever existed on the face of this earth.” Case in point, you, the volunteer, are in fact the heart and soul of America.

 

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April Volunteer Spotlight: Sherman Williams

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April’s volunteer spotlight shines on Sherman Williams, who serves with Financial Opportunity Corps (FOC), HandsOn Broward’s new financial education program. FOC relies upon dedicated community members like Sherman to provide free one-on-one financial coaching sessions and educational workshops to low-to-moderate income households.

The seeds of service were planted in Sherman when, as a teenager, he experienced the powerful difference one person could make in someone’s life. A native Trinidadian, Sherman moved to the United Sates when he was five. “Early on, the motivation to adapt to the American culture was a priority,” says Sherman.

But adapting was difficult for Sherman. Teased for his accent, he became a quiet boy who noticed everything but said little. That changed in the eighth grade, when Sherman wrote an essay about homelessness and the environment. It was an unusual topic for a middle-school teen, but, as Sherman explained, “Back home [in Trinidad], homeless people were everywhere. Then I saw them in the United States and I made the connection that homelessness was a serious issue.”

Sherman’s heartfelt writing won him first place in the contest and earned him a spot in the oratory contest that followed. Having never given a speech, and conscious of his accent, Sherman was, at first, dismayed. But a dedicated teacher stepped in to help. She coached him daily, working with him on projecting his voice and slowing down his speech. “I took her teaching to heart,” Sherman says gratefully.

Under the teacher’s guidance, Sherman practiced diligently and won 3rd place in the district-wide competition. “That was a life-changing experience for me,” he says. “The event gave me the confidence to be whoever I wanted to become. It was an empowering moment in my life.”

From that moment on, Sherman wanted to help others feel that same empowerment. Inspired, in part, by Martin Luther King and the power of one, he volunteered intermittently as time allowed. President Obama’s Call to Service, however, was the final impetus Sherman needed to fully light his volunteering fire. In 2011, he returned to Florida from California, signed up with Volunteer Broward (now HandsOn Broward), and has been actively engaged ever since.

When Sherman – who holds a B.S. in Business Management and an M.B.A. – learned about FOC, he quickly signed up for the first volunteer orientation and training. He thought that FOC would utilize his business background and speaking skills to their greatest advantage. He also believed the program brought a necessary service to the community. “I chose FOC because the information it offers is basic but is widely overlooked,” say Sherman. “Yet it can make positive impact in communities.”

He adds, “I just want to put myself out there. On my path, it took only one person to bring change, the proverbial power of one. Now I can empower others to make positive financial decisions.”

If you would like to learn more about Financial Opportunity Corps, or want to receive free one-on-one financial coaching, please email Melinda Matthews or Lauren Harrison.