"Be The Change! Change the World. Change Yourself," is a new book that offers insights and advice from people who have changed their lives by giving back to their community. The book was edited by Michelle Nunn, cofounder and CEO of Hands on Network, a Web site for connecting volunteers, communities and sponsors. Nunn was invited to talk about her book on TODAY. Here are personals storie
1. Identify Motivations
As obvious as it may sound, the first step in the process is to think about some issues that are important to you. This may be something you are already passionate about, or it may take some time and reflection to identify issues that are important to you. Ask yourself, what is important and really matters to me? Education? Children? Human rights? When you identify a cause that inspires you, it will help you to decide what organization you want to give your time to.
For Roger Wong from Boston, MA, it was the horror of 9/11 that motivated him to begin a lifetime of service. He described a moment of epiphany, now able to see the injustices in the world and in his community more clearly. “I was determined to find answers, to fight for a better world,” he said, and found his solution in becoming an AmeriCorps Promise Fellow that gave him the chance to tackle the world “hands-on.”
2. Do Plenty of Research
There are many ways you can find out about a cause that interests you, and the internet is a great place to start. Organizations like Hands On Network’ affiliates can provide you with information on exactly which community based organizations are looking for volunteers, and the specific roles needed to be filled by volunteers. There are also organizations such as VolunteerMatch.org, that will find an array of nearby volunteer opportunities simply by matching your zip code.
Heather Leah of Raleigh, NC has candid advice for someone trying to find their best fit as a volunteer, “A lot of people don’t realize the variety of opportunities that exist. I’ve done everything from ushering at an opera to cooking breakfast for families with sick children to selling peanuts for a fund-raiser at a football game. There’s a need for fast typists, creative writers, and people who work well with children. Look around for events and find something that speaks to you, something you think you could really excel at.”
3. What Skills Can I Offer?
Think about some of the unique skills you could offer an organization. This doesn’t have to be the skills you use on a daily basis in your career, school, or at home. You may be looking for something completely different that can challenge you in new ways. Volunteers have found that trying something new can offer a unique professional development opportunity that would not be cultivated in any other setting.
Often, it is the soft skills that individuals possess that they are able to utilize in volunteer service. Beth Fenger from Atlanta, GA (p. 48) has a passion for black and white photography, and was able to harness that passion by teaching a photography class to inner city schools.
4. Can I Involve Friends, Family or Colleagues?
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Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, but it’s also a great way to spend time with people that are important to you. Many volunteer opportunities are family friendly, or ideal for groups – so what better way to spend time together than by giving back?
Malikah Berry of Atlanta, GA tells her friends and family to spend their quality time with her by volunteering. “If you want to spend time with me this is how I spend it…What do I want to do for my birthday? I want you all to come to volunteer at a school with me! It’s a way to both hang out and do something good,” she says.
Many families enjoy volunteering together at Christmas or Thanksgiving as a way of doing something significant during the season of giving, but there are other great ways that families can spend quality time together while volunteering throughout the year. Research also suggests that children who begin volunteering when they are young often continue to serve the rest of their life.
5. Remember, Small Acts Make a Big Difference
Even the simplest act can help to change the world. When trying to change the world it can be overwhelming to think of the gravity of a particular situation, but when a volunteer is able to discover hope in their volunteer situation, the motivation is compelling.
“On New Year’s Eve I was standing on a back street of Biloxi. There were no lights on, no people around. I looked around and saw the stacks of branches, the piles of trash, the gutted houses. I was with a volunteer from Dartmouth College, and we looked at each other and both knew that there was no place on earth we’d rather be. How weird. I thought about “why” for a long time. And then it occurred to me. I was standing in hope. The trash was in piles. The houses were gutted. The street I’d just walked down was clear. Hope. I was standing in it and it was everywhere.”
“Monkey” Mike – Los Angeles, CA
6. Get Ready for a Personal Transformation
For most, volunteering is all about selfless giving. Doing something meaningful with your time is often reward enough. But an equally powerful experience is the transformation you will experience while you volunteer. Sometimes this can be as simple as a thank you, a pat on the back, or just knowing that what you have done has contributed to making life better for others. As we see throughout the book “there is a deeper spirit that exists in nature and connects us all. The way to tap into it is with service work,” describes Pamela Cuce from Boca Raton, FL “By positively helping others, we are constantly positively constructing ourselves.”
Amy DeHuff from New Orleans, LA ,is clear that you do not have to have a religious affiliation, or be particularly spiritual “to experience the beauty that comes from acts of human understanding and kindness…the smallest offering of support for a stranger can last forever within the giver and the receiver,” she says. It’s the type of feeling that people describe over and over again in their volunteer experience. “That’s how I got hooked,” Amy explains, “give a week, then a year – you’ll be ‘converted’ for life.”
7. Some Personal Tips from Notable Contributors
Congressman John Lewis
“In December of 1955, I heard about Rosa Parks and the bus boycott. I followed what was happening, the drama of it. I listened to Dr. King on the radio, and I felt like he was speaking to me. I felt like he was saying, “John Lewis, you can make a contribution.” I felt like it was a calling. It was a mission. I had an obligation. I never thought, along the way, of turning back or deviating from my mission or calling. When I was growing up, it was my goal to become a minister. I went to school and studied religion and philosophy. I thought it was a calling, but Dr. King and Rosa Parks came along, and I moved in a different direction. Even today I see my involvement in the rights movement and in electoral politics as an extension of my early calling to the ministry. It’s an extension of my faith. I believe you’ve been planted on this little bit of earth to do something and try to make a difference.”
Keith Brooking, Atlanta Falcons Pro Bowl linebacker
“I got into the NFL in 1998, and I always wanted to start a foundation; I wanted to give back to the community... I wanted to do something meaningful. That’s when I decided to start my foundation, which serves foster children. I know about the need for foster parents, and in the position I’m in today, I have the resources to affect a lot of kids in a positive way. There’s such a need for so many things in our communities. I realize that every person in America is in a different situation, and I’m fortunate that I have the time and resources to help people. But I really believe with my heart that everyone can make a positive impact in some way.”
Ann Fudge, former chair and CEO of Young & Rubicam Brands
“My commitment to community service really began in childhood. Growing up my parents always helped families that needed assistance. They drew me into their efforts, whether we were collecting clothes or toys or funds, and we did them as a family…These early experiences left me with an understanding that everyone can make a difference. You don’t have to do large things, you just have to do something…There are so many ways to help. The important thing is to get out there and do it. Sometimes its just one little thing you do that helps a person.”
George Gervin, NBA Hall of Famer
“Go out and volunteer. Go out and help the homeless. Go to a food bank and pass out food and see the people you have touched. During Hurricane Katrina, I went to shelters and passed out food, just to see the people who had just lost everything. To be able to smile with them and give them a hug was something I’ll never forget; knowing that someone else cares for them might have given them the motivation they needed to get their life back. The worst thing in the world is thinking that no one cares.”
Bill McDermott, President and CEO, SAP Americas
“I was born with 20/20 vision, but my parents taught me early on to see the world through other people’s eyes. We lived in the real world with real people who dealt with real-world pressures. My folks made sure I understood what it meant—what it felt like—to be a disadvantaged kid with no parents, a single mom struggling to feed a family, or a hard-pressed senior citizen without much of a safety net. I learned about empathy as a young teenager, when I helped my dad coach an elementary school basketball team. The guys were pretty good players, and we won championships, but many of their families had fallen apart because of economic or emotional pressures. So they relished the on-court relationships and mentoring we provided. I think the athletic allegiances we fostered redefined what winning is all about. When I was in high school, I bought my first business, a local delicatessen. I met all kinds of people working behind the counter. This was a big lesson in diversity. I offered free delivery to help shut-in seniors at home; I extended credit to blue-collar customers who were trying to make it from paycheck to paycheck; and I treated high school kids like adults. This experience taught me about connecting to—and understanding— the community.”