Volunteering is more than a feel-good moment

Sarah Davidson

With finals done and the holiday spirit on everyone’s mind, winter break is an excellent time to volunteer. Aside from actually containing the time to serve, winter break is the perfect opportunity because it really encourages students who are back home to find communities that are passionate
about helping out. 

This reflection leads to actually performing meaningful service instead of “easy service” or whatever your student organizations have already planned. While these events are often well-intended, and do provide some immediate benefit to the communities they serve, they are usually a temporary fix, a feel-good moment and some easy service hours to put on your résumé.

The holidays are just the time to look critically about the service we perform and challenge ourselves to go beyond the surface. Most importantly, the free time lets us build relationships with the people and communities we serve and hear their voices so we are able to have a positive impact. Oftentimes we serve in ways that make us feel good about ourselves, without making sure that we are actually addressing the needs of the
community itself. 

Another way to make your service more meaningful is to look toward your shareable skills. In high school, I was involved in speech and debate. Now when I go home for the holidays, I lead workshops at my old high school and middle school. It’s also very easy and fulfilling to tutor students back home who might be struggling in a subject that you are now majoring in. Email your old teachers and see if they might need any help or know of students who could use the mentorship. 

Beyond your school, your public library or community center may need help putting on events that benefit your hometown. Sometimes my hometown library needs volunteers who can type to help people create résumés or file their taxes online. Often these community resources will hold holiday events that
need volunteers. 

Most importantly, you can use this time to help organizations that align with your passions and your identities. Whether these organizations focus on children in foster care, homeless populations or struggling addicts, the holidays are a time to look beyond yourself and help communities even when it’s hard. It often takes some training or background checks to be equipped to volunteer substantially with some communities. Start thinking about the communities you feel passionate about, and find out what it takes to get involved. Start the training process over break so that you can return ready to serve long-term. Finding organizations that do the work you want to do is often simple. You can search for local chapters of national organizations online and contact them for opportunities. You can also serve locally by engaging directly in your community by contacting the organization directly.

There is no one definition of meaningful service. There is no one way to approach engaging in community service. Serving during the holidays is the best way to spread holiday cheer and to help you better appreciate what you have. For me, service is often a family affair during the holidays and a bonding opportunity. Consider taking time this break to find a way to serve and learn more about the cause, people or communities you are impacting.

Davidson is a rhetoric and writing senior and a member of the Texas Orange Jackets.