volunteer

Ahh summertime. Three months (at least here) of heat, sun, lemonade and bliss. The perfect time of the year to go do what you want, adventure, and fill your heart with lots of volunteer hours. Wait – you didn’t think of volunteering this summer? That’s not on your list every summer?

Millennials love volunteering. In fact, in 2013, 20% of adults under 30 volunteered for something–significantly more than the 20-somethings in the generation before. Volunteering taps right into the Millennial instinct to contribute and make a positive impact in society and the people that immediately surround them.

Are we talking about the same people, you may ask? Yes, indeed, we are. Your neighborhood college kid, that young guy in the cubicle next to you, the loud, media-obsessed intern in your office: they are a part of a generation that values giving to others.

Since I started my first full-time job, I’ve been on the look-out for volunteering opportunities. I looked at helping out at the Denver Dumb Friends league (their visits to my elementary school have always stuck with me–so many animals get abandoned and just want some love), the Literacy Coalition of Colorado (just being able to read better can improve your life, your job, your relationships), and a couple soup kitchens around town. If I had 6 more hours in my week, I would pull my weight at every single one of those organizations. I know that even just showing up would change someone’s life–at least for one day. But at the time, I was still figuring out this whole “time management” thing, so didn’t jump in. Until a friend of mine started organizing something amazing: she signed up for two or three volunteer positions at a local women’s rehousing shelter, and got our friend group to collectively fill those positions. Me and my now husband would use one night every few weeks, when it was our turn, as a date night, helping supervise a few kids while their mothers were in night classes that taught them life skills that would help them move on to the next phase of their lives.

Taking just an hour or two every few weeks was all I had to give, but I am so glad I did. Not only did it teach me about allowing others to do things on their own, to take their own initiative and to find their own way, but it taught me things about the man I married. I got to see first hand that he was caring, fun, and could put up with a few building blocks to the face. No doubt this will come in handy in the future.

We then took our experiences at the house and were able to connect with our friends who also helped share the volunteer positions. We compared war stories and talked about the one or two “regulars” like they were a part of our friend group. This isn’t uncommon for our generation, either. Whether they are in a formal volunteer position or simply providing for those they love, Millennials give their time by nurturing, leading, and mentoring others.

As researchers we need to know about this need to impact the world at large. Millennials are not completely selfish and are willing to spend their time on people other than themselves when they see the big-picture impact that they can make on others’ quality of life. They enjoy being involved, and research is most definitely a place that they can get involved with something bigger than themselves. We just need to tell them what that something bigger is. No gimmicks, no disguising what we want: when you want Millennials to be a part of your research, tell them why it is important to you, tell them why your research is worthy of their time. A heartfelt and honest approach will appeal to their desire to contribute and make a positive difference in the world.

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