Today, I am participating in the national day of service to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. The King Day of Service was initiated by Congress in 1994. And thanks to a special call to service by President-elect Obama, today is the biggest King Day of Service ever, with more than 12,000 volunteer projects taking place nationwide.
In fact, I have heard from several readers of my About.com Manhattan blog that it was hard to find a project in New York that still needed volunteers because of the overwhelming response. That’s fantastic news. I hope we can keep that spirit alive long after MLK Day and the excitement of this week’s inauguration festivities have passed.
One way to do that is to find a new volunteering opportunity that inspires you and make a long-term commitment today. For those currently seeking a new job or trying to navigate a career change, there are benefits to volunteering above and beyond the joys of helping others.
Those who have read Escape from Corporate America know that I highly recommend volunteering as a career change strategy. You can gain valuable experience and make great networking contacts while you make a difference for a cause you care about. I know many job searchers who have found new positions through connections made through nonprofit work. New entrepreneurs have similarly found potential clients, partners, and mentors. I also know many who have leveraged volunteering to strengthen their resumes, which has helped them position themselves for new jobs or whole new careers.
Check out this article that I wrote for About.com for more about the career benefits of volunteer work and for some ideas regarding great volunteering opportunities. The Taproot Foundation, one of the organizations mentioned in the article, is a nationwide program. StreetWise Partners runs programs in both New York City and Washington, DC, with plans for further expansion.
I have volunteered for both of these organizations. In fact, I first found The Taproot Foundation during the early days of my escape from Corporate America. I was trying to get my business off the ground and feeling both isolated and increasingly frustrated by the fact that I didn’t have enough client work to keep me busy (or profitable).
Volunteering with Taproot helped me channel some of that energy into positive activities. I had the opportunity to do good work for organizations that truly appreciated it. This helped me get past some of the self-confidence crises that came along during my first months as an entrepreneur — during those days when I wondered if I really had the skills and perseverence to run my own business. Today, I have been a committed Taproot volunteer for more than four years. I’ve met amazing people and enjoyed some of the most rewarding projects of my career.
For anyone who is feeling battered and bruised by the challenges of today’s job market, volunteering can be a wonderful way to remind yourself of how valuable you are and what you can achieve. All while helping out worthy organizations that really need your skills and experience. Throw in those fringe career development and networking opportunity benefits and you’ve got a win-win-win (I like to bust out my corporate-speak buzzwords now and again to keep it real).
Some resources for finding volunteer opportunities:
Know of other great organizations or resources? Please share.