Finding Satisfaction in Short-Term Service

Volunteering was the name of the game for School Nutrition’s annual personal development issue (January 2020). Deciding the “right” volunteer gig that match your interests, skills and availability can be an obstacle in getting started—there are so many opportunities that you can pursue! If a long-term volunteer commitment leaves you hesitant about agreeing to serve, you can still be intentional in meeting your new year resolutions to volunteer more by participating in a wide variety of singular events and activities. In this exclusive web extra, we offer some suggestions of where to find fun and meaningful opportunities.  

Annual Events. Consider the community calendar. It’s likely to be full of eagerly anticipated annual events, ranging from a turkey trot 5K on Thanksgiving and a library book festival/sale to a church bazaar and a hospital fundraising gala to a firehouse carnival. All of these events rely heavily on the assistance of volunteers to help with its organization, promotion and various day-of roles.

You can usually sign up for a limited number of hours and responsibilities, and you can vary these at different events. Perhaps you post flyers on telephone poles in advance of a political rally, offer childcare service at a benefit concert, sell raffle tickets during a silent auction, clean up trash following a crafts festival or distribute certificates of participation to polar plungers—whatever help you’re willing to offer will be welcome! You also may be able to attend all or part of the event, while enjoying the opportunity to engage with other volunteers and participants alike.

Fundraisers. Not all fundraisers are connected to big, splashy community events. Smaller-scale activities, such as a church’s weekly bingo night, a public television station’s spring pledge drive or a PTA’s bake sale, also need help from volunteers on a limited basis.

Performances. Many performing arts venues can’t afford to hire large number of people it takes to get everyone to their seats before a show and rely on volunteers to assist as ushers, giving a free or deep-discounted ticket to the show in exchange for the help. Start by checking with professional theater companies, arenas and stadiums, before moving on to college/university performance spaces (especially during the summer months when you’re competing with fewer student volunteers). Although opportunities will be more plentiful in metropolitan areas that support numerous venues, you may be surprised at what is offered—with volunteer help—in small and rural communities.

Local Service Days. Many local governments observe and sponsor community-wide events on national service days, such as Global Youth Service Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance and World AIDS Day. Events are designed to empower individuals, bridge barriers and strengthen communities. Contact your local mayor’s office or chamber of commerce to identify possible volunteer opportunities.

Community Agencies. Hospitals, libraries and animal shelters are three examples of community pillars that often rely on volunteers and may have short-term opportunities available, in addition to longer-term commitments. These can depend on the depth of the local volunteer pool, the specific needs of the individual organization and the scope of responsibilities of a volunteer coordinator. Try cold calling the organization and explaining that you are available to volunteer but prefer not to be locked into shift work or other long-term responsibilities.

Local Chapters of National Organizations. Use your internet browser to find local chapters of national organizations that rely on volunteers. These include (but are hardly limited to!) the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), American Red Cross, American Legion, AmeriCorps and United Way. You will find that some of the national websites feature volunteer matching services to find a specific volunteer project by zip code and interest.

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