12/15/2015 03:55 EST | Updated 12/15/2016 05:12 EST

Your Next Volunteer Role Could Change Your Life

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Multiethnic Group of Young Volunteers

When many of us volunteer, we choose to do so because we have a personal or professional connection, attachment or affiliation with an organization or cause. We often make the decision to do so based on what we know, or we lean on friends, families and colleagues for recommendations if we aren't sure of where to contribute our time and efforts.

Typically, as is the case for me, we are drawn to opportunities that align with our personal or professional development goals. So naturally, many my volunteer efforts have been related to those passions such as youth oriented initiatives, or to help those less fortunate locally and globally, at shelters, soup kitchens, community centres, and, schools and orphanages, to name a few.

The benefits of volunteering for something you are passionate for and believe in are countless, but it wasn't until recently -- in the last few years to be specific -- that I discovered there were so many opportunities to volunteer that I wasn't pursuing.

Here's some tips to help you consider your next volunteer role and how it could change you in monumental ways.

1. Volunteer outside of your known interests!

Take the plunge. You might be surprised by what you learn about the world, but most importantly, about yourself. When I volunteered in the past, I rarely looked beyond my passions, interest circles or affiliate groups. While it's it's been great to my skill set and continue to master them, I wasn't acquiring new ones or discovering anything I didn't know. I approach my work life with that mindset, so why not in my volunteer life? Why restrict myself to the things I know when there's a world of possibility and opportunity waiting to be explored.

My most recent volunteer experience was with the Toronto 2015 PanAm and ParapanAm Games. When I first found out about the games, I didn't think there would be a place for me to volunteer because I didn't know anything about them, nor did I have any connection to the world of sport. In reality, I didn't even know about the PanAm games until I heard Toronto was the host city. I discovered a whole new appreciation and interest in the games and sport, and everything involved in being part of such a large undertaking.

As much as volunteering is an opportunity to give back, make a contribution, and do your part to achieve great things, it is also an opportunity, among other things, to try new things, learn new skills, and meet new people. Volunteering with the games made me realise that volunteering outside of your comfort zone, or in something you're curious about is actually the smartest, risk-free, and safe way to try new things, acquire new skills and see how doing so might inspire new interests and passions. In fact, it worked for me so much that I've been actively thinking about how to take my involvement in the Games World to the next level. Brazil 2016, Commonwealth 2018, PanAm 2019, the possibilities are literally endless, and this all from just one summer of volunteering outside of my realm.

2. You have more to gain than you think!

Prior to working with JA Canada (a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing business education for youth), I knew volunteering was how many organizations survived but now I realize that the true value of volunteers, what they bring to organizations, and what they gain is even greater than most of us realize. I've heard from friends that they hesitate to volunteer in areas they feel they don't have the skill set for. Back to my earlier point, volunteering is the best way to try something without the risk of being judged, or being under a microscope.

I have friend who is a business professional and entrepreneur who would have the most incredibly unique insights and stories to share with our students. Not only would they be inspired by his life path and dedication to pursuing his dreams, I can just see one of them saying, I want to be like him! The only issue is he doesn't feel comfortable teaching in a classroom setting and he's not confident in his public speaking skills. The fear of not being able to speak publicly is actually preventing him from thinking about the value that one class will bring to his professional development. Maybe that classroom will be the one thing that leads him to build the courage to stand in an auditorium of hundreds.

Students can inspire even the biggest critics just by being interested in what we do. Volunteers always think of what they are doing for others, but also need to consider what volunteering is helping them accomplish. It's not selfish to think of how you can develop new competencies, gain confidence, and have pride in what you're doing to help others and make yourself better in areas you want to improve.

3. If you're considering a career change, it might be a volunteer opportunity away

I never imagined that my interest and advocacy for volunteerism, as well as my determination, and drive to help others would lead to a project and role that allows me to apply everything I've worked towards in my career.

In late 2014, I was hired to create, envision, and launch the Royden Richardson Virtual School for Volunteers. A platform dedicated to empowering our volunteers by enabling them to prepare for their volunteer experience, no matter what their role, anytime, anywhere. In 2016, JA will introduce a new and dynamic approach to engaging a dedicated volunteer community. Sign up once the site is launched to learn what we are doing to create for awareness, engagement and community among our volunteers and the greater JA community.

I will continue to volunteer with organizations I am already involved with and will continue to look for and find new and exciting opportunities because my volunteer roles have changed my perspective.

Volunteer and I guarantee your next volunteer role could change your life, your attitude, your vision, your career path, (insert any other word you want to here)!

Safia Dakri, JA Canada, Director, Royden Richardson Virtual School for Volunteers


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