As you prepare to separate or retire from the military, your focus is likely set on securing what comes next for your career, family and home. While giving away your time, efforts and services by volunteering in your community does not provide direct financial rewards, it is an integral part of your transition for the sense of community, collaboration and connections you can gain.
Consider these direct benefits volunteers receive from giving away their time and talents:
- Learn new skills. Volunteering provides you with the opportunity to learn new abilities, techniques and talents. Whether you volunteer to build houses for disadvantaged veterans, organize logistics for a non-profit’s fundraiser, or lead a committee for a civic organization, you will be exposed to new processes, procedures and resources, expanding your knowledge and skills.
- Expand your network. When you volunteer, you will meet other veterans and civilians who are also donating their talents. This exposes you to new contacts who can potentially add value to your career by introducing you to key influencers, providing you input and guidance, and lend emotional support and encouragement to you during our career.
- Continue to serve. Steve, a 22-year Army veteran, notes how volunteering helped him continue to fulfill his need to assist others: “When I help those in need in my community, I am continuing what I learned in the military. The people I work alongside and help are different, but the sense of duty, service and impact is the same.” Remember, the desire to serve is engrained in veterans.
- Find a mentor. You’ve likely heard how important having a mentor is to your military-to-civilian transition. A mentor will guide you through the challenges of finding a job and building a career, and will coach and advise you through all aspects of being successful in your civilian work. When you meet mentors through common values and goals – such as through volunteering for a shared mission – the relationships tend to be stronger and more sustainable.
- Build your resume. Some of you will leave your military career with skills that are difficult to translate into civilian jobs. Volunteering can give you training that makes you more marketable to private employers. Similarly, having volunteer work on your resume shows consistent work, and eliminates employment gaps, even though you aren’t being paid for your volunteer work.
Where Can You Volunteer?
There are many organizations, groups, causes and programs that need volunteers. To identify a viable volunteer opportunity for yourself, consider the amount of time you can give, the areas/issues/causes you are passionate about, and where your current skills and abilities will be most valued. Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) who assist veterans and military families, non-profits that address community issues such as homelessness, illness, at risk youth, family concerns, housing limitations, and organizations in need of skilled labor are great places to volunteer your time and skills. For example:
- Are you passionate about dogs and cats? Consider volunteering at a local animal shelter.
- Do you feel strongly that today’s youth should have access to innovative technology? Find organizations that connect technology companies with schools.
- Can you wield a hammer and a saw? Why not volunteer to build homes for disadvantaged veterans in your community?
- Interested in real estate and business? Join the local economic development center or chamber of commerce to meet like-minded individuals.
Volunteering enhances your career, resume, network, and skills. It also fills your heart: You will know that your time, talents and efforts are helping a community you feel passionate about, and who desperately needs your service.