Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Finding My Volunteer Niche

My husband volunteers at a fire department, and has for years.  Many of my friends volunteer for various organizations, and one of my friends has been a foster parent for years, so I was constantly around people who give of their time for some greater good.  I waned to volunteer for something too.  I believe it’s the right thing to do; if everyone volunteered for something a lot of things would get done, and I truly believe the world would be a better place. 

My problem was in deciding what to volunteer for; I’m not the most outgoing person, I’m not at all physically strong,  I’m sort of prissy and don’t like to get dirty, I don’t care for large crowds, I love quiet, and I didn’t want a huge time commitment .  But I thought surely there was something out there that I could do to make a small difference without wrecking my little world as I know it.  So began my saga of failed volunteer attempts.

I tried volunteering with a rape crisis center, but the training program, which had to be completed in order to volunteer, was essentially full time, which didn’t work with my full time job and long commute.  I considered (for about five minutes) a children’s shelter, but I’m not good with kids, so I abandoned that idea very quickly. 

Next came my quest to find some sort of office work to do on a volunteer basis.  It’s what I do for a living, so why not just add a few more hours a week for a good cause?  That didn’t go so well either; many of the places that I tried had paid office positions, and didn’t need volunteers for them.  Some places didn’t have enough office work to need a volunteer.  I finally found a legal aid type place that I was very excited about, but I quickly learned that the person in charge had a definite political agenda that was very different from mine.  So I stopped volunteering there before I even made it out of training.

After my disappointing, and brief, stint as an office worker volunteer I decided to try something more hands- on.  I spent one Saturday morning freezing outside the mall with a pet welfare group attempting to promote spaying and neutering, definitely something I feel strongly about.  The methods, however, were not so much to my style and liking; the posters and signs made many people (including myself) cry, and some of the people were a little, let’s say, intense, for me.  A good group to be sure, but definitely not my niche.

Still going with the hands-on approach I next attempted an animal shelter.  I love animals, and had heard great things about this one.  I went, and the experience wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t entirely what I was looking for.  The noise level in the shelter was very intense (for a person who rarely even plays the car radio this is a BIG deal) and the shelter is about 45 minutes from my house, so if I had two hours to spare, only about 30 minutes would actually be spent volunteering.  I kept meaning to go back there, but never found the time, or if I’m honest, the wherewithal to endure the noise.

I began to wonder if there was something inherently wrong with me that made it impossible for me to volunteer, some basic human kindness gene that I was missing.  Plenty of other people manage to find the time to do something good, without complaining about the noise, the commute, the time, or anything else.
Then a co-worker talked to me about animal transports.  I had never heard of them before, but basically a rescue group pulls animals from a high kill shelter and volunteer coordinators arrange for volunteers to drive the animals wherever they need to go.  Many transports are on the weekend, and are usually broken into one to two hour segments, or “legs”.  This sounded promising! 

I was a little hesitant to sign up at first; many of the legs in my area involved driving to places I’d never been before, and I have a terrible sense of direction.  I have literally gotten lost in revolving doors.  I wanted to help, but I wasn’t sure driving around lost with some poor dog qualified as “helping”.  Then there was a leg that involved picking animals up from a shelter near one of my teenage hang-outs and driving them just a little past where I live now.  This I could do!

I signed up for that transport on a Monday and anxiously awaited my Saturday morning leg.  The transport coordinator was great about answering my questions.

In the meantime, I received another email about another transport that needed just one leg filled, to Tennessee.  It was only about an hour and a half drive, only an hour from where I would be dropping off the animals from the first transport.  My best friend, who has a sense of direction that is like having GPS, agreed to go with me if I signed up for the transport to Tennessee, and so I did.

The Friday afternoon and evening before the transports I made contact with everyone I needed to; drivers on other end of both legs, the transport coordinators, and one of the rescue groups.  Everyone was very pleasant, and as the communication was largely by email, it didn’t even disrupt our Friday night plans.

Saturday was one of those beautiful, blue skies and puffy clouds days where everything seems right in the world.  The drive to the shelter was easy; it was a drive I’d made literally hundreds of times, and all went well in picking up the animals from the shelter.  My friend and I delivered all six animals (two dogs and four cats) to the next driver, and were able to try a new restaurant while waiting for the next transport.  The drive to Tennessee was absolutely beautiful, and the two dogs from that trip were a lot of fun. 

When my husband asked how it went, I knew I’d finally found my niche.  The trips were easy, the people were all kind and pleasant to deal with, and the animals were precious; driving them part of the way to a second chance at life was an amazing feeling. 

I have since signed up for more transports, usually the same trip to Tennessee.  I know how to get there now, and am not so worried about directions.  There are transports most weekends, so I seem to be able to sign up as often as I’d like, and there’s no guilt tripping or explanations needed on weekends when I’m not able to sign up for one.  I've met some really amazing people and made some new friends.  It’s not glamorous, and it’s not making a huge impact (except, I like to hope, to the animals we drive and the families who adopt them) on the world, but I have finally found my volunteer niche.


  1. Reading that was like listening to myself talk; a little shy, not physically strong, not liking a political agenda etc etc....
    I'm so happy for you that you found something to contribute to. I'm still looking but you have given me hope.

  2. I'm really impressed you persevered at finding the perfect volunteering job for you. Sounds like it was tough but I'm glad you got there in the end. I used to volunteer at a charity shop while I was at school, but that was several years ago and I should really start volunteering again.


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