There's a lot of attention being paid right now to volunteerism in the wake of Sept. 11 as people who perhaps had never volunteered anything more than to answer a busy coworker's phone are now stepping forward to volunteer supplies, money and assistance to strangers, in record numbers. Yes, volunteering is 'in' right now, and that's a good thing.
Before you rush to put yourself on that volunteering bandwagon in 2002, however, there are some factors you should weigh out for yourself about volunteering, and information you should gather. After all, if you're feeling guilty for not doing enough to make a contribution to your world, you don't need to add to that guilt by volunteering for something and failing to be able to follow through or to do an adequate job at it.
Opportunities for volunteering abound in the Greater Cincinnati area. While options are diverse, certain elements of volunteering are constant between settings, and should be considered. First of all, there's a time commitment. Some agencies/programs have very specific time requirements, whereas others are more open-ended (i.e., they'll accept whatever time you are willing to give.) Ascertain what the specific time requirements are, the duration/longevity of involvement expected (does the organization need a commitment for a month, a year, the duration of a project, or what?) and be sure to factor in the not-so-obvious time factors as well.
For example, I volunteer as an usher at the Aronoff Center For the Arts, and while each event averages two-plus hours (not a big time commitment,) I also have to factor in having to report for duty almost two hours before show time, plus time for driving there, finding parking, etc. From start to finish, it usually averages out to a five-hour commitment.
I don't mind, though, and it's because of another factor, an important one you'll want to consider in making a volunteering choice: variability. In my four years of volunteering at the Aronoff, I have never had the same experience twice -- different show, different audience, different co-ushers -- and I thrive on the variability. Some volunteers thrive on consistency, though, and some agencies/ programs offer very consistent experiences (the same staff, clients, programs) so you need to understand your preferences and screen agencies/programs accordingly.
Other important factors to consider are: money/ expenses (as rewarding as being a Big Brother/Big Sister is, you do need to be able to spend money on activities with your Little Sister/Brother); skills required of and training/support offered to volunteers; availability of supportive resources for volunteer activities/programs; amount of direct versus indirect client contact available and/or required (it's very important to figure out exactly what your preferences are re: direct client contact, and be sure the program's expectations of and opportunities available to volunteers match your preferences); level of self-involvement and emotional investment the volunteer position elicits/expects; level of local versus national focus and involvement; and, reputation of the organization/program.
These considerations may seem obvious, but I have several friends and acquaintances who have shared horror stories (as well as glory stories) about their volunteering experiences. More often than not, it's one of these factors which has made the difference. Every volunteer has preferences, and not all programs/organizations are equal, so it's very important to figure out where your personal preferences and capabilities lie regarding these areas. In essence, you need to do the basic homework in weighing volunteer options and opportunities.
Start by asking yourself what it is, exactly, that you want to gain from a volunteering experience. Are you ready, willing and able to make that commitment? Take it from there. Resolve it to be, or not to be. Drop the guilt about needing to volunteer, and either just do it or drop it. Wherever your self-exploration takes you, resolve to make 2002 a better year whatever that means for you.