How Do I Get Involved? Questions About Fitting in Volunteer Work (by Guest Blogger Cam Jordan)

I think that it’s easy for college students and professionals to lose their sense of community involvement when they are entrenched in the day-to-day grind of getting by and advancing in their career.

Working, Learning, Sleeping: Is There Extra Time?

I used to volunteer in schools, camps and shelters on a regular basis in middle and high school, when I had consistent time to devote to it. Now my work schedule is so erratic, (and I need so many hours to afford rent and school,) that I don’t do anything for the community on a regular basis. I wake up, go to class, go to work, go to sleep. On days off I have a list of things I should have done last week to do, and a family and group of friends lamenting my restrictive schedule and demanding to see me. Basically, I’m always expected to be somewhere unless I’m sleeping. So how do I make time to help anyone else when I’m struggling to keep my own life together?

Thinking About Volunteering As Flexible

What I’m going to try to focus on is the fact that I don’t have to have a consistent schedule to help someone. I don’t have to volunteer every Wednesday at noon if my work schedule might not allow it. I don’t have to sacrifice making the money I need or doing my schoolwork to help in the community. I should just do what I can, when I can. And that’s certainly better (for the community and for me) than doing nothing at all.

Questions for Readers

To all of you busy, overworked and underpaid people out there: do you ever feel this way? How do you keep it all in balance? And what are your go-to ways of being involved if your involvement must be sporadic?


13 thoughts on “How Do I Get Involved? Questions About Fitting in Volunteer Work (by Guest Blogger Cam Jordan)

  1. For spontaneous volunteering, I love Hands on Portland’s calendar of volunteer opportunities: If your plans fall through, you can check the calendar to substitute in a day of pulling ivy or an evening at the Oregon Food Bank. Or if you want to get a little more involved, you can plan a few weeks in advance. You can volunteer once a month, once a week, once a day…or randomly when you happen to have time.

    I’ve also stumbled upon some really interesting virtual volunteer opportunities. If you want some suggestions, email me at OR just google “virtual volunteering” and look around for something that suits you — incredibly flexible and interesting work is out there just waiting!

  2. Cam, I too am busy seemingly all the time. I work and go to school and have to do enough of both to pay rent and hopefully have a career by the time I’m done. And yet I feel like I can do more, like I can give more back to the community some how. I think the best way to volunteer is just pick a certain time on a certain day and commit to that. Like we do with this Capstone, having set times for volunteering really helps regulate everything else. I can tell my work that I have class on Monday and Wednesday and that leaves it open so I can volunteer those mornings. Just get a plan and stick to it is what I think.


    Eli Creighton

    • In response to Eli’s comment, I agree that if you are able to find a specific time/day that you are available each week to commit to a volunteer opportunity, then it is definitely better to do so. It is always easier to make yourself go through with something if it becomes a regular and expected part of your routine. While volunteering whenever you are randomly able to is still a good idea too, having that set commitment makes it a bigger part of your life.

  3. In responding to Cam’s post above, I agree with what you said about busy work, busy school, busy family relation, and except the time for sleep, which really impede on how and when we can contribute to the community. According to my own philosophy, if we can’t help out, we can’t. It’s not like that I don’t want to, but if so many things are going on all at once, and it’s understandable that things are hard to balance, then I would just do the things that are the most important to me first. This may sound somewhat selfish, but if i can’t even manage my own schedule, how am I supposed to help the others? Here’s a little tip: instead of feeling guilty about not doing any volunteering work during school time, I usually volunteer during the long summer break, and at that time, things won’t be as hectic anymore, because I am not taking any class, or not as many! However, for those of you who continued to take classes, considering smaller class loads would help to squeeze out some time for the community. Thanks!

  4. This is something that I thought about quite a bit over the last few weeks. I don’t know about anyone else, but I absolutely love my volunteer placement and would like to find a way to continue in the future. It’s a small after school program but I really feel like we are making a positive impact on the community that we work with. And it makes me feel great doing it! Naturally, I would love to see it continue to grow and last through the years and one of the ways that I can do my part to continue the good work is to put in the hours needed to run it!

    I know that next term I will have some time but the catch is that I will be moving further away at the end of November! And then I will be (hopefully) starting a full-time job after I graduate. I know that one way to help the community is the volunteer wherever you can and Hands On Portland is a great way to do that. Another possibility was actually brought up in another post and that was volunteering through the library, and there is also a need for volunteers to work the Crisis Line here in Portland.

    I might not be able to continue helping the same kids after this term but I feel confident that there is some way that I can continue helping the community and the next generation.

  5. Cam,
    I agree that finding extra time in one’s life to volunteer can be difficult. Throw being a parent into the mix, and then you feel torn between spending time volunteering or spending time with your child who you are away from 8 hours a day already. One solution would be to take your child with you, which can work, but can also end up being more of a hassle than it’s worth. Of course it depends on the age of the child. I have found that SOLV litter clean-ups can be successful and a good way to introduce your child to the importance of caring for the planet. As my daughter gets older I will volunteer more with her so she can be exposed to different ways to help people. Children are incredibly impressionable and love to help if they are given the chance.
    I agree with Savannah about wanting to stay on at my volunteer position after the term ends, but I also wonder about how it will fit into my schedule. As seniors, our lives will undoubtedly change when the school year is over and our current positions may no longer work in our lives, but there is always something, someone out there who needs help. If we make volunteering a priority in our lives, we will find the time to do it.

    • Krista, I think it is so cool that you take your daughter to volunteering experiences. I once tried to take Milo for a walk to clean up the litter around the neighborhood and was less than successful. My wife has recently started talking about how to incorporate having Milo and doing volunteering at the same time. It would be interesting to hear about your experiences as you continue with your volunteering and your daughter. Boone

    • The first volunteering experience I can remember doing were the Beach Clean Up days, which were always lots of fun, both for the scenery and the fact that we were doing something to help maintain it. I was very young when I started doing those, so I have to agree that those are a great way to introduce a child both to the importance of volunteering, and also to being responsible about the environment around them. Hands On Portland also has a thing to search for volunteer opportunities that children can also do, such as helping hand out books to children or packing toy care packages around the holidays.

      I hadn’t heard of SOLV before, so I had to look it up, and they looked like they had many opportunities to volunteer out of doors. Are they also the people who do things like trail maintenance or new trail development? Those would most likely be too much for little hands, but I think it’d be fine for a teen.

  6. Cam! I am so impressed with your volunteering in your youth. Did your parents encourage this in you? I have only recently become interested in volunteering. In the last year I have started pursuing more and more opportunities. I think the key for me is balance. I know that I certainly qualify as a overworked, underpaid(sometimes as the world of tips goes), super busy person. I am in school full time, president of a school student group, work 32 hours a week, have a 3 year old child and a wife in school as well who also works. So obviously my priorities seem like they should be paying bills, good grades, family life, student organization management, marriage happiness…so on until you get to the volunteering portion of my life. However, I have found that going for balance doesn’t always say that. I have found ways to take classes that can be pass/fail, I can leave 2 hours early on certain days for a mid-afternoon date with my wife or delegating responsibilities to others to free up some time. In this avenue of thought I have found ways to volunteer. For example I helped at the Special Olympics over the summer. I had to rearrange my work schedule, but with enough time it worked out fine. Even though that was a 1 day volunteer opportunity it was incredibly valuable to me, and I know that it was important for me to be there because I was busy all day long. (plus I was able to do it with my wife so that was a date/fun at the same time) Another example I have just recently stumbled onto is volunteering with residents in a facility. The wonderful thing with these residents is that they are Super flexible with the time because they are combating isolation and they are extremely grateful for any and all company they get throughout the week. Some of these particular residents have utterly no concept of time so whether it be once a month or once a week they can’t tell, as the joke goes at the center; they wouldn’t know if you were late. I have mostly discovered that if I get a B in a certain class but have enriched someones life the trade off can be worth it. I would prefer to become a well rounded person and to me a well-rounded person isn’t perfect at everything they do, rather they are good at most things. A Jack of all trades, a master of none. Good luck! Boone

    • Jeez, you and Krista make me feel lazy when my only at-home responsibilities are a hyper kitten and a moody boyfriend! Thanks for your insight, I think I’ll reconnect strongest with volunteering over winter and summer breaks when I don’t have every moment planned. And yes, my parents supported my volunteering, but I think it was a couple great teachers that sparked my interest.

  7. Your point about thinking about volunteering as flexible is a good one. While it is true that being able to commit to being there at the same day and time every week can be more helpful especially when working with children, it is also equally true that some help is better than none. I think a lot of people use their inability to make even a weekly commitment holds them back from making any at all, and it is easy to make excuses to yourself that the little you *can* give is not enough. It’s important to remember that giving even a few hours of your time whenever you find yourself able probably makes a bigger difference to someone than you might ever even be aware of.

  8. I think sometimes we can look at “volunteering” as an additional burden – and a big one! Some things I’ve learned: 1. I am no good to anyone if I am overwhelmed. So I do need to take care of myself. 2. Volunteering as “flexible” is a great concept. My own civic engagement ebbs and flows in terms of time commitment. If I send a quick email to an elected official from the comfort of my own home, that’s ok. At other times it looks different. In any event: every little bit helps, and start where you are!

    • I agree with what you’re saying, Deb. I always talk about being an engaged community members as something that does have its tides. The first thing that I think we can all do is to just keep informed by keeping up our reading on whatever civic issue is important to us. That way, whether it’s a simple conversation, a letter to a local official, or participation in a community meeting, we’ll be on top of the details and able to contribute more of higher quality!

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