Want to make the world a better place, but not sure how to get started? You do not have to invent something new, negotiate the next big peace treaty, or become a vigilante superhero. The easiest way to make the world better is by simply volunteering.
Whether you organize a food drive for the hungry, put together your own neighborhood watch group, or take time to help out at your local animal shelter, the time you spend volunteering has a positive impact on your community. Better yet, it helps to cultivate a sense of community and local culture that many cities have lost.
Volunteering Can Be Social
Going online nowadays means seeing ads for social media sites, hearing about someone's latest adventures through their Facebook posts or Tweets, and seeing pictures of people's daily lives on Instagram. The popularity of social media underscores what many of us have known for years: some of the best things in life get better when we share them with friends. Volunteering, of course, is no exception.
Not only does volunteering allow us to improve the lives of our neighbors and the community as a whole, it can be fun for individuals. It is natural to want to share fun experiences with those close to us. You can get a group of contacts together to clean up a local park, coo over cute animals while helping as a group at an animal shelter, or put a team together to help raise donation money in a charity sports competition.
You can also make a wide array of new connections through volunteering. A recent article in The Guardian suggests using volunteering as a free and socially responsible alternative to dating sites. Many professionals use volunteering as a way to connect with other members of the community from whom they may later gain business leads. And, let's not forget that making a friend or two is bound to happen. All of these interactions can enrich your life while you improve your community.
Volunteering Builds Safer Communities
Strong community bonds encourage people to empathize with one another more. Empathy and communication often help prevent violence and crime. Your volunteer activities can have a direct effect on public safety.
For example, improving the safety of a park for children or pets is a popular new volunteer opportunity. Once, playgrounds were made of wood, metal, and concrete, with sharp edges, hard surfaces, and lots of opportunities for injury. Worse, many of these parks were landscaped with poisonous plants that could harm children or pets that might visit them. Many volunteer groups have begun improving the condition of these parks to make them safer for visitors; replacing playground equipment with safer materials, padded surfaces, and non-toxic landscaping. Additionally, the time put into parks makes families more likely to visit them, which means parks will be less likely to become a place where legally questionable things happen.
Another great example is creating a neighborhood watch. Getting to know the neighbors and helping keep an eye out for one another builds a strong sense of community. Better yet, as people get to know one another in a neighborhood, they may find themselves helping each other in unexpected ways. For instance, while patrolling, if a neighborhood watcher notices a neighbor's garbage cans still by the street or uncollected mail or newspapers, they might move them closer to the house to keep the neighborhood tidy and keep the criminal element from identifying the house as unattended. Or, if an elderly neighbor needs help collecting groceries from the car, a neighborhood watcher may lend a hand to assist, preventing possible injury to the elderly neighbor. In this way, volunteering and doing good for others can become addicting!
Volunteering Solves Problems
Far too many people see problems and merely complain about them. Volunteering allows you to address an issue yourself. For example, many volunteers have found neighborhood groups that identify and report problems with local infrastructure and services as an effective way of improving transportation and services in their area. While others might sit back and wait for someone else to do something about the problem, you can take it upon yourself to bring the issue to the attention of the proper authorities and get real results.
Even for problems less easily fixed, such as feeding the homeless, those who do nothing really have no right to complain about the problem. If you volunteer, on the other hand, you can help give people in need warm food and other necessities to improve their lives and you can speak with first-hand knowledge and empathy to people who only complain. This will cut down on finding fault and increase action. When you volunteer, you actually do something to make your community and the world a better place.
Begin looking online and asking friends and neighbors about volunteering opportunities. Go to a few organizations for day long adventures, like cleaning up a park or a beach, and see how you fit with the group and the non-profit. If you like it, volunteer more. Also, if a lot of the people you asked weren't volunteering at all, go back to them and invite them along with you.