January is more than half-over, meaning that winter is half-over too—fingers crossed. The organ-chilling temperatures and long, dark nights of deep winter can take a toll on the psyche. If you’ve been spending a lot of time at home sending out resumés or if you work during the daylight hours under fluorescent lights, you probably need a juicy dose of inspiration and a healthy change of perspective to regain some inner sunshine. The best way to get that warm feeling deep down is through volunteer work.
Some people dole out soup at a local mission, and others canvass door-to-door. Doesn’t sound too exciting, does it? Aside from a few days per year, usually around Christmas, volunteering is easily shrugged off and forgotten. We get lost in our day-to-day routines and distractions, and we forget that there are so many people who never had a chance at the life we take for granted. Volunteering might be off-putting to some because the work is unpaid, but in my experience it is well worth the time and energy for so many reasons.
As much as we all want to help others, time is precious and we are taught that making money is the best way to spend that time—we literally trade our time for a paycheque. While you won’t receive money from your volunteer work, there are so many things you’ll walk away with. The key is finding a volunteer position that is mutually beneficial— you give your time to a non-profit organization while gaining experience and work contacts in return.
When I worked with the Canadian Cancer Society, I was rewarded with the occasional free movie ticket from corporate donors, but the real gem I unearthed was my first “office” job. I had volunteered for several months and a few staff members knew I was eager to find paid work. When a position opened up, I was put on the short list. Because I knew the right people and proved my ability to learn quickly, follow instructions and be generally pleasant to others, I set myself up for the job—which eventually led to my next job. Working your way up to a paid position on your own merit feels incredibly satisfying, and devoting some time to those stricken with a painful disease is a no-brainer. Visit www.cancer.ca to learn how you can join as a volunteer.
Another unpaid position that became a hot topic at every job interview I attended was my experience at VoicePrint Canada (also known as Accessible Media Inc.). VoicePrint broadcasts news, local flyers and other important information to the blind. This awesome, modern and dynamic job involved recording myself reading the news in a soundproof audio booth, editing the audio on a computer and submitting it for broadcast. This wasn’t your ordinary volunteer job, and no one seemed to know about it, but it was so cool! I learned how online radio journalism worked and gained multimedia skills. This non-profit organization relies on volunteer voices to keep delivering. Join them at www.ami.ca/ami/voiceprint/volunteer.aspx.
Finally, if you really can’t handle leaving the house in the winter, summer music festivals (like Ottawa Bluesfest) are always looking for helpers for a wide variety of tasks, including picking musicians up at the airport, and reminding concert-goers to recycle. I volunteered at Bluesfest a few years ago and it was the best way to see concerts that I otherwise couldn’t afford to see: I had free access to any show I wanted. My job was scanning tickets, and I worked a few four-hour shifts of my choice. Sure, I was surrounded by high school students racking up their required volunteer hours, and sure, my team leader thought I was a teenager too (I was 25 at the time), but who cares? I saw two bands I love—Neko Case and Black Mountain—for free! It really is that simple.
Helping others is always a good idea. Sometimes, when we’re in a professional rut or feeling sorry for ourselves, performing a good deed can kill the blues. If canvassing isn’t your style, there are many other options that might suit you. The least you’ll find is a fresh start and a free cup of coffee.