To volunteer or not to volunteer?

With the school year rapidly approaching and summer meeting it’s sad demise (T minus 33 days until classes, people!) thousands of us students will be collectively sighing as we map out plans for the upcoming semester. Now that classes have been chosen and schedules finalized, one of the few ways I like to get ready for the school year is deciding what I want to be involved with outside of the classroom. (U of T has over eight hundred clubs and societies so this does take a proper sit-down session just to sift through the list of them all) But one thing I’m determined to work into my schedule this year is volunteering. Volunteering has always been a constant feature of my years of learning, ever since middle school. I mean, I’m not saying this to brag about how dedicated I am, far from it- when I first had to volunteer as part of my school’s mandatory program, I was as annoyed and unenthusiastic as a thirteen year old could get (mostly because it meant I couldn’t stay home and take care of my tamagotchi). But as time went on and I really started to bond with the staff and people at the organization, I spent more and more time there until it became a regular commitment all through high school until I left home. (and my tamagotchi lived to a ripe old age despite my neglect). I had (somewhat) similar concerns before I entered my first year about committing to volunteering. Between lectures and tutorials scheduled at awkward times of the day, wanting to be involved with clubs, trying to achieve that ideal GPA and still maintain some semblance of a social life, I really didn’t think I’d be able to set aside time to seek out volunteering opportunities. But I think what I forgot was that you don’t need to commit large chunks of your time to go out and volunteer. People understand that we’re students and we’re inundated with work and stress and I found that most volunteer organizations are more than happy to have you dedicate even an hour a week to start off. That’s what I did starting off volunteering at Hope Air in my first year. (It’s an organization that arranges free flights for deserving Canadians who require travel to healthcare facilities.) I picked out a short time slot once a week that suited me and didn’t interfere with any of my classes and really began to look forward to my weekly commitment. I found the whole experience to be almost like a retreat - in the sense that volunteering allows you to forget about your own problems for a minute and really focus on what you can do to solve someone else’s. It’s not all just about being altruistic either- you might not realize it, but there are so many ways that volunteering can benefit you. Of course, it wouldn’t be advisable to go into something purely for the sake of, say, beefing up your resume or impressing that grad school. It’s important to care about the cause as well. But from something as basic as a change of scenery or a break from the monotony of study-eat-sleep-work-study, to widening your network, making connections on a meaningful level, improving your social skills by interacting with people (if you’re as shy as I can be) to boosting your happiness and self-esteem levels, there’s a lot to consider.
a meme photo of a determined baby with the caption 'volunteered, got way happier'
Volunteering also means you pick up some valuable workplace skills- from teamwork to problem-solving to hands-on labour- you’ll have a wealth of experience to draw from that will come in handy for the future. It’s also a good way of keeping informed on issues within the community you live in. There’s so much I got to know about the Canadian healthcare system and the problems that can arise within it from volunteering that I would’ve normally known nothing about. There are thousands of welfare organizations in Toronto that you can seek out volunteer placements at and lots of resources on campus to help you connect with those organizations. The Centre for Community Partnerships (569 Spadina Avenue) is a good first stop. screenshot of center for community partnerships website   Lots of places also offer drop-in volunteering sessions and even home-based volunteering if you have computer skills so even if you have a chaotic schedule, there are ways to make it work. So if you spot any of those grey spaces in the middle of your colourful patchwork ROSI timetable, maybe consider thinking about spending a bit of that time volunteering? It never hurts to have karma on your side! 🙂

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