Since college, finding time to volunteer and give back to the community has been very important to me. For many years after graduating, I barely made enough money to cover my living expenses, let alone donate. I knew, though, that what I couldn’t offer in financial support I could with my time.
As soon as I could, I become a Big Sister through Jewish Big Brother Big Sister. Shortly after that, a friend told me about a new organization for young adults. The premise was you could sign up for one-time volunteer opportunities with a group of other young professionals and then afterwards you go out for a meal or a drink.
Volunteer and meet new people? As someone who was still new to Boston and had not much in the way of an established social network, this sounded perfect for me.
I signed up and started volunteering at many different places, from homeless shelters to a local food bank to park cleanups, and began meeting new people along the way. I enjoyed the flexibility of trying out different volunteer opportunities, but quickly found my favorite one helping at a soup kitchen in downtown Boston. I loved being able to cook and serve a hot and (hopefully) delicious meal to the patrons of the soup kitchen, and making friends with my fellow volunteers while doing it was an added bonus. I volunteered at that particular event so much I was soon asked to become an event leader by the founder of the volunteer organization.
Being a volunteer also gave me access to some pretty amazing opportunities, like the time I volunteered at a black tie Oscar party that was raising money for breast cancer research. Others were not quite as entertaining. There was the time I helped at another cancer-related nonprofit stuffing envelopes for a mailing. The work might have been less interesting, but my fellow volunteers and I knew we were helping a great cause. We made jokes and laughed during our time there and the time flew by, and afterwards we treated ourselves to a delicious meal at a nearby restaurant.
There were many things I had hoped to gain from volunteering. I volunteered as a way to give back, having grown up so fortunate myself. I volunteered as a way to make connections, both with my fellow volunteers and the people who I was hopefully helping. I volunteered to learn: about the world, my community and even new skills.
What I had not expected to gain from volunteering was to find love. You see, on that fateful day stuffing envelopes, I met a guy. We didn’t talk much that afternoon; in fact, the only thing we may have said to each other was to pass a stack of papers. But as he was quickly becoming more involved in the organization also and I was already in a leadership role, soon after that event he reached out to me to see about getting together to learn more about my involvement. We already knew that we had volunteering as a common interest, and we quickly learned that we had so much more, from an appreciation to the same quirky music to striped sweaters from H&M (which we were coincidentally wearing the first time we hung out).
The first beer together grew into communicating regularly online and hanging out in person, to dating to eventually moving in together. It has been nine years since that fateful day. We are now married and have a beautiful daughter together.
I know that we live in a busy world with overscheduled lives, but I encourage you to find the time to volunteer. Maybe even this Valentine’s Day instead of going on a traditional date, you can try a volunteer date with your partner or a group of friends. I can promise that whatever your intentions are for doing it, you will get so much more out of it than you ever expect. And hey, maybe you’ll even find love while volunteering.
Bev Feldman is a jewelry artist and blogger in the Boston area. She has a passion for travel, creativity, all things handmade, and giving back to her community, all of which she hope to instill in her daughter. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and Instagram.
Each Friday, the another jennifer blog shares stories of those who incorporate philanthropy into their everyday lives – personally and professionally – in a creative and unique way. If you have a story you’d like to share, please contact Jennifer. Read past stories here.