“What do you want for Christmas?” How often do we ask or answer that question this time of year? While the holidays are usually focused on getting what we’ve asked for, choosing the perfect gifts for our family and friends, and creating that warm holiday experience, it’s easy to feel empty in the middle of all the festivities when we simply accumulate more stuff that we may not truly need and look for fulfillment that’s centered in our enjoyment.
Sometimes – a lot of times – that emptiness can be a catalyst for becoming “others” focused. To stop thinking only of ourselves and find a way to help others in need. The holidays are the perfect time to give back and help fill that void in another person’s life who may be less fortunate than we are. But how do you decide where to donate your time and efforts?
Where to Find Volunteer Opportunities
Most service opportunities aren’t that obvious; no billboards are announcing the need for volunteers. However, the opportunities are abundant; you just have to be intentional in seeking them out. For example, most communities have a chamber of commerce where you can find the non-profits in your area, or there may be a central organization like United Way that identifies and mobilizes volunteer opportunities. You can also do an internet search for non-profits in the area or ask local churches for their volunteer needs. Then it’s a matter of pinpointing the service areas that coincide with your interests and skills.
Examples of Community Service
Let’s explore some common volunteer options, along with some of the benefits when you serve others.
Non-Profit Community Service
Most non-profits have very limited budgets and are often dependent on volunteers to keep their doors open. Whether your passion is animal shelters, pregnancy centers, food banks, homeless shelters, historical societies, veterans, or faith-based causes, you can provide behind-the-scenes assistance using your skills to help with mailings, marketing, cleaning, social media, website maintenance, event planning, fundraising, client services, or even board membership. Stop by or call these organizations to find out what their needs are and how you can help.
The opportunities here are nearly endless, whether during the holidays or throughout the year. From helping with community events, participating in local beautification projects, cleaning up graffiti or trash, being a volunteer fireman, assisting with youth programs, providing manpower for building homes for the disadvantaged, serving on committees, serving a meal, or even running for school and local government, supporting your community with your talents and time is a great way to be “others” focused and strengthen the organizational structure of your town.
This is a broad category with myriad volunteer opportunities.
- Provide Christmas gifts through organizations that coordinate presents for children of deployed military personnel, whose parents are in prison, or who live in third-world countries.
- Contact the foster care organization in your area to supply Christmas gifts or basic needs for children in the foster care system.
- Mentor an at-risk child through agencies that pair adults with children to develop positive relationships and help them achieve their potential.
- Become a court-appointed advocate for a child navigating the court system.
- Visit youth in the local juvenile detention center.
- Volunteer or share your knowledge and skills with a local boys or girls club.
- Coach a team.
- Work with schools to tutor, mentor, or assist a student who is falling through the cracks.
Volunteer Opportunities for Human Services Majors
Volunteering is for everyone, but for those pursuing a bachelor’s in human services or a master’s in counseling, there is perhaps more motivation to serve, more likelihood of practicing learned skills, and more populations of personal interest that fit well with volunteer opportunities. Because these programs teach students how to help people cope with challenges such as poverty, substance abuse, mental health issues, and relational crisis, these degree seekers can provide valuable services while also gaining practical experience.
In addition to volunteering with children and non-profit initiatives like those outlined above, there are several other volunteer opportunities for human services majors or graduates.
The Homeless – Every town, no matter how small, has a homeless population. Find out if there’s a coordinated effort to meet the needs of the homeless in your area through a local agency, shelter, or soup kitchen. You can offer to serve meals, put together hygiene packets, provide cleaning, or complete other needed tasks. If there is not an organization that does this in your town, you can meet the needs of homeless individuals by giving a blanket or gift certificates for food, haircuts, or a night’s lodging in a hotel.
Aging Adults – These are often the most overlooked people during the holidays - and year-round, for that matter. Whether you choose to volunteer at a local nursing home, befriend an older adult in your neighborhood, invite a senior to Christmas dinner, provide transportation, or deliver food through Meals on Wheels, valuing those who have gone before us by giving of your time and letting them know they are not forgotten is a gift they will appreciate more than anything you could buy. And you may be surprised at how much you can learn from these experienced sages. If you have an agency for the aging in your community, it can be a valuable resource for identifying volunteer opportunities with the elderly.
The Sick and People with Disabilities– You don’t need to have medical experience to help those who are facing a debilitating or terminal illness or those who have physical or mental disabilities. Providing companionship, performing everyday tasks, and helping with activities are services often needed for these groups. Many organizations focus on the sick and those with special needs, including the Red Cross, local hospice centers, Special Olympics, and Goodwill. There are also groups and even camps that serve specific populations, like those living with diabetes, cancer, cerebral palsy, and autism. With so many options, this is an excellent place to start when looking for opportunities to give back during the holidays.
Survivors of Abuse – Whether you are concerned with sex trafficking, domestic abuse, survivors of rape, or child neglect, there are shelters and advocacy groups that often utilize trained volunteers to assist with these issues in various capacities.
The Versatility of a Bachelor’s in Human Services
Beyond volunteering, your training in human services can lead to a variety of jobs in the helping profession. Mary Alice Grosser, Professor in Charge of Human and Social Services at Ottawa University, discusses the versatility of earning a Human Services Degree:
With a bachelor’s degree in human services from Ottawa University, you can work with children and teens, adults, families, or the elderly. The settings you can work in are just as versatile including hospitals, community organizations, public welfare agencies, and private clinics such as substance abuse clinics or mental health clinics. We even offer amazing internship opportunities at facilities such as hospitals, battered women’s shelters, substance abuse clinics, and residential treatment centers for at-risk youth. For online students, our faculty facilitates a unique hands-on experience through video counseling sessions and opportunities to learn about agencies and resources in your area.
What are the Benefits of Volunteering?
Beyond the obvious benefits to the people being served, there are myriad personal benefits of volunteering and working with those who are underserved or at risk. For the approximately 26 % of adults who volunteer in the United States, those benefits can be emotional, physical, social, and even vocational. On the emotional level, volunteers often experience what is referred to as a “helper’s high,” which gives the person a greater sense of self-worth and reduces stress. Volunteers also experience a higher level of overall satisfaction with life. Who would have guessed that focusing on others could boost your confidence, lower your chances for depression, give you a greater sense of purpose, and help you with your struggles?
Physically, those who volunteer or help others regularly, especially into their older years, can slow their mental and physical decline. Socially, significant opportunities exist to serve alongside like-minded people and to meet new people with varied backgrounds. Volunteering also requires working with supervisors and colleagues to accomplish a common goal, thus honing communication and collaboration skills, improving decision-making skills, and improving social outcomes, especially among at-risk youth.
And let’s not forget what volunteering can do for you professionally. Many volunteers receive training to accomplish their tasks. This training, along with the experience, knowledge, and skills you gain through the service you perform, is often transferable to your job, which can prove to be an invaluable resume booster.
Are You Ready to Give Back?
Now, all that’s standing between you and the satisfaction of helping others this holiday season is finding the right opportunity and jumping in. But don’t relegate your volunteering to the Christmas season. Make giving back a lifestyle that you practice all year long. After all, you’ll reap just as many benefits as the people you choose to serve!
For those wishing to pursue a bachelor’s in human services or a master’s in counseling, Ottawa University offers accelerated online degrees in Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Phoenix.
Obtaining a Fulfilling Career in Behavioral Health Field
What Can You Do with a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services?
Benefits of the Ottawa University Online Education Experience