Are you a student who needs community service hours to graduate? Are you wondering where to start, or how you’ll fit the hours into your already demanding schedule? You may be involved in sports or a club, or carry a demanding class load, or maybe you’re holding down a part-time job, trying to earn money for your future. You may be asking yourself, “Why does my school even require me to volunteer?” or “What’s in it for me?”
As it turns out, the answer is plenty. As one Chinese proverb puts it, “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” Over the ages, the great philosophers and thinkers have suggested the same thing: Happiness is derived from helping others.
There is abundant scientific research that supports this theory. An article in Psychology Today reports that, compared to those who do not perform community service, people who volunteer have better psychological health and a greater sense of well-being, and they live longer lives. In fact, the positive impact of volunteering has been found to be greater than that of exercising, or even giving up smoking.
Another study by Harvard Business School found that when people were given money to spend on themselves or others, those who gave it away registered a higher level of happiness than those who bought something for themselves. There are even imaging studies that demonstrate that giving of ourselves activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by other pleasurable pursuits, such as consuming food.
In addition to the personal sense of well-being that comes from giving back, there are practical benefits to volunteering. You may learn work-related skills and have the opportunity to ask for a professional reference from the organization. A prominent employer once told me that they won’t even consider hiring someone who doesn’t list community service work on their resume. Through community service, you can also develop valuable interpersonal and interview skills that will serve you well once you graduate.
There are a number of nonprofit organizations in the Capital Region and beyond that need volunteers. When exploring volunteer options, it’s important to consider your abilities, schedule, interests, and expectations, as well as any age requirements, before you make a volunteer commitment. You might ask yourself:
Once you’ve narrowed your focus, it’s time to choose from the host of non-profit organizations in and around the Capital District that would welcome your help. The following is not an exhaustive list. In fact, it’s just a small sample of the community service opportunities available, categorized by areas of interest. You can also consult resources like VolunteerMatch, the United Way volunteer matching site, and the list prepared by the University at Albany to find additional organizations in your area.