After a long week, it’s hard to think of much beyond a hot shower and sleeping in the next morning. But before that, you still have to wrap up a conference call, drop off dry cleaning, and squeeze in a parent-teacher conference. We’ve all been there: there are countless causes in need and we have a sincere desire to address them, but our minds are swamped with more pressing daily obligations.
Yet there is a growing body of evidence that volunteering benefits you as much it does your cause of choice. On a personal level, you are likely to enjoy improved mood and sense of purpose. In addition, meaningful volunteer experience and networking may be a catalyst for a career upgrade. If nothing else, you are setting yourself up for having new experiences and meeting interesting people in the process.
In the spirit of community service and team bonding, we kicked off our nascent volunteering program by working with the San Francisco Pathways to Citizenship Initiative. The SF Pathways program promotes citizenship and civic engagement by offering free legal clinics and naturalization application workshops, open to all. Here’s what we thought of our experience at the December workshop:
1) Why did you decide to volunteer at the SF Pathways to Citizenship event?
Byron: My parents were immigrants to the US, and I knew how much it meant to them to become naturalized citizens. Helping other people reach that goal is a worthwhile cause.
Mondee: I think it’s important to show that as a society and community we support and are invested in immigrants and their families.
2) What was one thing you learned from your experience?
Alex: The application is very thorough; I had to ask questions I didn’t expect anyone to say yes to. On more than one occasion, I wondered how the applicants felt about being asked such things.
Clair: Despite being a naturalized citizen myself, I hadn’t thought much about the hidden costs of application. In addition to the application fee, you also have to take time off for your interview and the naturalization ceremony. If you have a complicated legal situation, you may need to hire an immigration lawyer for advice. For some people at the workshop, having access to free legal advice and fee waivers can make or break their bid to become citizens.
3) Was there a memorable moment from your experience?
Mondee: I helped a family from Tunisia. They had to list residence information for the past five years, which included stints in hotels and shelters. It just drove home the struggle that many immigrant families face as they try to find a foothold in their new country.
4) What surprised you about the event?
Byron: There was such a wide range of people applying. It was very interesting to see how “being an American” was valued by people.
Ryan: A lot of the candidates arrived with all or most of their paperwork already completed, which was a large part of what the workshop was designed to help with! It felt like a testament to how complex the process is–even people who finished the application on their own time wanted to make sure everything was just as it should be.
Alex: Seeing people line up hours before the workshop started opened my eyes to just how many people needed our services. It felt good knowing that my volunteer work was useful to others, and to know that there were plenty of people like me who were offering their time to do this very necessary work as well.
5) Any other thoughts on your experience?
Daniel: Even though we were filling out paperwork early in the morning, there was a lot of positivity from clients and volunteers alike. Definitely not what I imagine when thinking of “paperwork” and “early morning.”
In just one morning, we were able to see the immediate impact of volunteering, and it was immensely rewarding. You’d be surprised at what a difference you can make!
What are your favorite organizations to devote time and effort to? Let us know about your volunteering experiences in the comments or on Twitter!