It’s Monday – a fact that is typically met with a collective groan. But today isn’t just any ol’ Monday – it’s MLK Day. For many, this translates to a day off. But for me and thousands of others across the nation, it’s quite the opposite.
It is a Day ON!
Today, in Bloomington alone, there are 54 different service projects registered with the City of Bloomington Volunteer Network, ranging from building bird houses and bee homes for the Bloomington Community Orchard, to writing letters for Veterans with the American Legion Auxiliary, to helping Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard prepare for the spring garden season (see the full list here). Together, these 54 organizations are hoping to host over 1500 volunteers for a day of service on what is traditionally seen as a “day off”.
We’re college students. We live for days off. Why in the world would we want to dedicate our precious day off to helping others, when it is hard enough to help ourselves? Why not stay home and rewatch all 8 Harry Potter movies and cry over the late, great Alan Rickman?
Because crying over Alan Rickman won’t bring him back! But also because by helping others you are helping yourself.
How do I know this? Because I’m an avid volunteer. Over the years I’ve worked with Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, stocking shelves and growing food, with Middle Way House teaching children about nature and rooftop gardening, and most recently with the Crimson Cupboard, as Donations Coordinator.
When I signed on to be the Donations Coordinator for the Crimson Cupboard, my first question was: okay, now what? The answer? Get donations. I quickly followed up with my next question: um, how?
Being a student, I looked at coordinating donations as an assignment. With that, I suppose I was hoping for a grading rubric of sorts – a detailed list of expectations and the value of meeting them. But no such thing existed. I had my task and the rest was up to me. Let me tell you, I took that task and ran with it! That was one of many lessons I’ve learned by volunteering: it’s about what you bring to the table. The experience is what you make it. Now, in the mere 4 months that I have been Donations Coordinator, I have acquired a plethora of skills and connections that will be invaluable in my search for a job.
That’s why college is the perfect time to volunteer. Your career is on the horizon. You have a general idea of the field you want to pursue, you are actively learning things that relate to that field, and you are working to build a relevant resume. Volunteering provides the opportunity to: explore a potential career field, apply what you’re learning in the classroom, and acquire skills to make you more employable in your desired field. Furthermore, it allows you engage in the community in a very deliberate and productive way and prove that you are an asset. Plus the added bonus of helping to make the world a better place!
In doing for others, I’ve found a lot of strengths in myself. I’ve developed skills that if, less than a year ago, they had been listed in a job or internship description, I likely would have skipped over that listing, thinking those skills were far beyond me. I now have the hands−on experience that proves just how wrong I was about myself.
Here are some things I can now say I have experience with, thanks to volunteering:
Managing grant funds
The best of classrooms will teach you a concept and give you the chance to apply the lesson in some real world way. For Public Health students, the concept of program funding comes up a lot – grants, in particular. However, no class that I’ve taken has ever really offered the opportunity to apply that knowledge; I guess that’s not really a practical expectation. Yet many jobs in the field want you to have experience in that area! This is a conundrum that can be easily solved by volunteering. In the past year, I’ve had the opportunity, as a volunteer, to work with not just one but 3 different grants. This is incredibly valuable experience in my field, and one that the classroom just can’t provide. You better believe that I’m including that on my resume!
This is a biggie for me. I used to hate public speaking. The thought of having to get up in front of people for any length of time, to speak, was literally a nightmare for me (as in, it would inevitably give me nightmares). And the idea of me doing it willingly was laughable. But all that changed when I got involved in organizations that I was passionate about. All of a sudden, I had something to say, and wanted to tell the world! Before I knew it, I was offering to speak in classrooms about Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, I was signing up for tables at the Involvement Fair, and, the pinnacle of my public speaking achievements, I spoke at an event at the Farmer’s Market on behalf of the Rooftop Garden at Middle Way House. Though I still get nervous, the thought of speaking in public no longer keeps me awake at night.
Creating educational pamphlets and promotional materials
In creating educational and promotional materials for the Crimson Cupboard, I now have three physical documents I can add to my portfolio to show off my design skills, my ability to summarize and disseminate information, and show that I’m a competent wordsmith.
Collaborating with other community organizations
You know that feeling you get when your professor announces a group project in class? That sinking heart, that sour stomach? And then that obnoxious eye roll you give when said professor attempts to justify this by promising that group work is a valuable skill you’ll use in the real world? Well, turns out they are right (who knew?). In the course of planning an MLK Day event for the Crimson Cupboard, I’ve collaborated with many people and organizations, some that I may never have crossed paths with otherwise: the South Central Community Action Program, Hoosier Hills Food Bank, Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, Eigenmann Hall, Lucky’s Market, the SPH Student Government, a plethora of IUB academic advisors, and even Goodwill.
This directly relates to the positive collaborations I’ve had with the people and organizations listed above. I’d like to think that if I reach out again in the future, these contacts would be willing to work with me again. Likewise, if I was contacted by one of the fine people I’ve worked with over the course of this particular collaboration, I’d be more than happy to do whatever is requested.
Recruiting and coordinating volunteers
Being a volunteer myself, this was a unique experience to have. To be on the other side of a volunteer opportunity – the coordinator rather than the volunteer – gave me a valuable look at all the work that goes into providing a meaningful and positive volunteer opportunity. Hint: it’s a lot! But it’s mutually beneficial. The work that you put out to ensure a positive opportunity can easily be reciprocated 10−fold by one good group of volunteers.
While a day off does sound nice, I’m looking forward to being part of a citywide day of service. The opportunity to meet new people, to exercise my newfound job skills, to make new connections, and perhaps add a thing or two to my resume far is a much more valuable experience than re-watching all 8 Harry Potter movies in a row. That’s what weekends are for, anyway.
So, I ask: what will you be doing with your day on?
Erika Wheeler is a Junior pursuing a degree in Community Health. As a native of Bloomington with no college aspirations, she grew up thinking of Indiana University as nothing but a big pain in her small hometown. She has since changed her mind.
Categories: Career Advice
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