Many of us begin each new year with resolutions: Study more. Start a new exercise routine. Spend more time with family. Be a better person.
A new year is a fresh opportunity to set goals, make life-changing decisions, and strive to gain new experiences by breaking out of your comfort zone.
While doing more volunteer work is a common goal for the new year, it can be hard to know where to start. There are seemingly endless causes and nonprofits in need of support. Finding the right opportunity or even knowing what to look for can seem daunting, as can committing the time. As the year goes on, service work can get left in the back of the mind and at the bottom of the priority list
Fortunately, there are many accessible ways to volunteer, and service work can take many forms, including short-term, long-term or one-time activities. Whether you’re looking to try a variety of experiences, or if you want to find something and stick with it, there’s a volunteer opportunity for everyone.
As we enter 2022, consider exploring service work that will be meaningful for you, works with your schedule and helps support your future career goals. The benefits of volunteering are long-lasting.
Here are some ideas to try throughout the new year:
- Random acts of kindness
- Making a positive impact in your community doesn’t have to happen in a formal setting or through an official organization. Cook someone a meal. Offer to take tasks off a coworker’s shoulders. Surprise someone with a coffee. Brightening someone’s day in a small way will spark waves of kindness.
- Follow your passion
- What issues are the most important to you? Maybe you’re anti-fast fashion and into sustainable materials sourcing, or perhaps the sight of a scooter in the middle of a sidewalk makes you mad because you know a wheelchair won’t be able to get by. Look around websites such as VolunteerMatch or JustServe, and don’t be afraid to ask the leader of a group or organization about ways to serve regularly.
- Join an advocacy/service group on campus, in your community, or online
- It’s important—and impactful—to join forces with others who are passionate about the same things as you. Many clubs and organizations provide ways to consistently be involved, connect and gain leadership skills. From doing social media for a group to helping arrange a benefit concert, there are many creative ways to support causes and agencies with low (or no) budgets.
- Tutor a student
- Your favorite class is someone else’s most challenging. If you excel in a certain subject, consider tutoring a peer or offering your talents to a local elementary school, library, or community center. The time commitment can usually be customized to fit your schedule, and it’s a great way to help others that has a tangible outcome.
- Find a seasonal volunteer opportunity
- Everyone wants to actually stick to their New Year’s Resolutions, right? Find a regular volunteer opportunity you can do on academic breaks throughout the year, when many agencies are low on staff members. Helping out during the holidays, for example, can make volunteering a habit.
- Start a garden and donate the produce
- Healthy food is an essential component of a healthy community, but for some, it can be hard to access. If you enjoy gardening, consider planting extra produce and donating it to food pantries. AmpleHarvest.org has an online registry where you can find places to donate in your area.
- Participate in a local charity walk/run
- Marathons and walk/runs are a common method of raising awareness and funds for important issues while getting your heart rate up. Participating in a 5k, for example, is a great way to contribute that typically only takes a few hours out of the day.
- Host a group cleanup day at a park or beach
- Environmental service is crucial, and it starts in your community. A good way to start small and make an impact is to schedule a cleanup of a beloved public space.
- Find one new volunteer opportunity each month
- If you're willing to dedicate a little more time to volunteering, consider choosing a new volunteer opportunity each month (or as often as possible). You’ll learn more about the community where you’re volunteering and find something specific you're truly passionate about.
- Become CPR certified or learn ESL
- Learning skills that can help build a safer, more inclusive community will always be a valuable way to spend your time. Becoming CPR-certified will come in handy in case of emergency, and a skill such as ESL can expand your communication skills.
- Foster a shelter animal
- Many animals are in need of safe places to stay, especially during the winter. Fostering--or even adopting--a shelter animal can provide love and comfort and may even lead to a forever home.
- Help neighbors with leaf raking, dog walking and other tasks
- Activities like maintaining a yard or tending to a pet aren't always easy, especially for those with a disability, the elderly or those with busy schedules. Offer to rake leaves, walk a dog or even housesit for neighbors going on vacation. You never know how you might help someone by taking just one thing off their plate.
- Teach people how to register to vote
- Every vote matters, but not everyone knows where to start with voter registration, candidate review and polling places. Next time a local or national election comes around, offer to help people learn how to register to vote, where their nearest polling place is and the importance of casting your ballot. IU’s nonpartisan Big Ten Voting Challenge is always looking for enthusiastic volunteers.
- Make or donate clothing for those experiencing homelessness
- Warm clothing is important, especially during the winter. If you know how to knit or crochet, or if you have extra clothing you don't need, donate it to a local shelter or other organization that can distribute it to those who could use it.
- Sign up to usher or volunteer at your local theater or museum
- Supporting spaces that help artists grow while bringing together members of the community. Hand out programs, staff the concession stand, help promote events or find another opportunity that contributes to the special community bonding inspired by the arts.
- Commit to recycling
- A relatively easy way to help the environment is simply recycling or cutting down on single-use plastics. All you need is a recycling bin to start being more conscious about what you're throwing away and where it ends up.
- Run a fundraiser
- If you find yourself drawn to or inspired by an issue or event in your community, consider raising money for the cause. Collecting funds for a family whose house was damaged in a fire or for a child in need of money for medical bills, for example, can bring community members together in a time of need.
- Attend a protest/march
- Raising awareness by adding your voice helps, too. Start with a cause you care about and connect with local groups or individuals connected to that cause. Join protests, marches, or meetings, or consider organizing one yourself.
- Teach a skill
- Offering lessons for a musical instrument, dance, art, or language is a great way to help your community and share your skills and get to know others in your neighborhood.
- Volunteer at a shelter
- If you love animals, reach out to your local shelter or rescue organization to find out how you can help pets stay healthy and find loving homes.
- Make birthday boxes, holiday boxes and hygiene kits for organizations
- Have a crafty side? Making boxes of small gifts is a popular way to make a difference. Often given to children in orphanages or the hospital, or to those struggling with stable housing, they're a great way to show that someone cares.
- Volunteer at a nursing home
- Helping the elderly is a great way to contribute to the well-being of your community. You’ll bring a youthful spark to the space while hearing stories from people who have led long and interesting lives.