Growing up, my parents always stressed the importance of getting involved with your community. Whether it was serving in the PTA or manning a Kids Voting booth, it wasn’t uncommon to see someone in my family volunteering.
It’s something that has stuck with me as I’ve gotten older. Over the years, I’ve been a lunch buddy with students at a local school, donned a hard-hat to help build a house and worked as an usher at a theater, among other projects.
I’m not alone.
A 2013 study found that 33 percent of Charlotte residents volunteer, each averaging about 45.3 volunteer hours a year, according to the Volunteering in America report.
We volunteer with our churches or co-workers, with family and friends or strangers. We sort donations at the local food bank or shelter, tutor students, plant gardens or play games or keep company at a seniors home.
“We have so many great organizations that do so much great work,” said Doug Macomb, direct of programs for Hands on Charlotte. “That keeps people involved.”
But how do you get started?
One option is to take advantage of agencies like Hands on Charlotte and the United Way of Central Carolinas that recruit volunteers and manage projects across the region. Hands On lists more than 100 projects on its calendar each month, and also does corporate or special communitywide projects. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked as one of its volunteer leaders for a project at Walter G. Byers School the past few years.)
Meanwhile, the United Way coordinated more than 580 projects for its partner agencies and other organizations in 2014-15, said Sarah Degnan, volunteer engagement manager. She said the organization will work one-on-one with volunteers to find projects that best suit their interests and needs.
But you can also contact organizations directly. Most, like Habitat for Humanity or the Humane Society, list volunteer opportunities on their website, or you can call to find out what their needs are. Most offer a mix of one-time projects, and those that require a long-term committment.
The Charlotte Observer publishes the needs of hundreds of agencies each December in our annual Giving Guide.
The biggest advice local volunteer agencies offer new volunteers? Don’t be afraid to try new things. And don’t give up. Even if your first volunteer project isn’t a right fit, the chances are good that you’ll find another project you’ll love.
“Our goal is to make regular volunteering a normal part of your life,” Macomb says. “There is something out there for everyone.”
April is the Observer’s news producer and social media manager.
Agencies to help you get started
Want to volunteer, but not sure where to get started? Here are a few local groups to check out.
▪ Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
What’s available: Variety of volunteer opportunities, though tutors and mentors are among the biggest needs, says Ana Brown, the district’s volunteer coordinator. Proctors also are needed for end-of-year testing.
How to sign up: Register at www.cmsvolunteers.com. Volunteers must undergo a background check.
▪ Habitat for Humanity
What’s available: Home build or renovation projects scheduled year-round. Volunteer shifts also available at Habitat ReStore. All skill levels welcomed.
How to sign up: www.habitatcharlotte.org. Volunteers must be 16 or older.
▪ Hands on Charlotte
What’s available: Individual or group projects in areas like education and senior services, animals, the environment and arts. Also manages corporate and special, community-wide events.
How to sign up: Register at www.handsoncharlotte.org. With some exceptions, would-be volunteers must attend an orientation and undergo a background check.
▪ United Way of Central Carolinas
What’s available: Individual or group projects with United Way partner agencies and other health and human services organizations in five counties. A young professionals group – www.uwyl.org – also coordinates projects and other events.
How to sign up: Go to www.uwcentralcarolinas.org and click on the “Get Involved” tab. Volunteer coordinators will help you scheduled volunteer shifts.