Tips on finding the right volunteer opportunity

What if you could find a way to help others, and it only cost you a little bit of time? What if you got to know some fun new people–and learned some new skills along the way? Would you be interested in giving this idea a try?

If you said “Yes! Sign me up!” you’re ready to look for a volunteer opportunity. In most communities there are plenty of possibilities once you start looking for them. A volunteer job could mean anything from caring for animals at a shelter to organizing the shelves at a thrift store to serving coffee at a community kitchen.

Transition students aim for paid employment, and volunteering does not replace that goal. But even if volunteering doesn’t offer a paycheck, the rewards are still valuable. For many transition students, volunteering is an important part of figuring out their goals and finding their future career.

Here are three ways that transition students benefit by volunteering in their community:

Expand your social network and community

Volunteering offers an easy way to meet others who share your interests. For example, a student who loves sports might volunteer with a local team. That’s a good way to meet other sports fans. By helping at an animal shelter, volunteers meet other animal lovers. Being part of a volunteer team makes it easy to get to know each other as peers—there is always something to chat about as you work together on a common goal.

But it’s not just the volunteer with disabilities who gets to expand their social network! Neurotypical people benefit by getting to know others with diverse abilities, and gain a better understanding of the ways that people with disabilities contribute to the community.

Build your work experiences and professional network

Volunteering is one way to sample different kinds of work. For example, a few hours a week at a non-profit thrift shop is a low-risk way to experience the world of retail. A volunteer might learn that they enjoy customer service and cashier duties (and those skills look great on a resumé.) Or they might learn that retail is not the best fit for them, and their career path lies in another direction.

Sometimes volunteer positions pave a new pathway to employment. For example, check out the story about a volunteer internship that turned into a paid job at the same business. In this story, the student learned the details of her work so well that she was asked to stay on as an employee.

In other cases, volunteering helps students build a solid list of references. References can include supervisors and team members who know the student well. Most job applications ask for several references and their phone numbers. These people can tell future employers about the student’s work habits and describe what a helpful, cheerful employee this person would be!

Make a difference in the world—and learn how good that feels.

According to the Mayo Clinic, volunteering time and energy to help others is good for both mental and physical health. People who volunteer have less loneliness and depression, lower blood pressure and stress levels, and they tend to live longer, too. Through volunteering, people can stay connected to their community and that keeps them healthier in return.

Interested in finding a volunteer opportunity? Here are a few tips to get started.

Begin by talking with the people you know

The best way to learn about a volunteer spot is simply to ask around. Talk with people that you trust, like family friends or adults in your faith community. It’s always a good idea to share what you learn with parents or family. They may have good insights about the organization, or may want to go with you to meet the volunteer coordinator.

At school, transition students have several go-to resources to help find a volunteer opportunity. Ask your teacher or Youth Transition Program (YTP) specialist, or check in at your high school’s career center about local organizations or events that need volunteers. They can help think through what volunteer spots might be the best fit for you and help you make the connection to learn more.

Check online for volunteer connections

Websites like let searchers browse through a variety of organizations and events looking for help from volunteers. Start with your town and the kind of volunteering that interests you. Some opportunities are for on-going work and some are temporary. Volunteer Match includes a wide range of possibilities for all kinds of abilities.

Other websites get more local, and list opportunities aimed for people with disabilities. For example, partners with organizations in the Portland area to connect people with intellectual disabilities to volunteer jobs that both give back and teach job skills.

In Central Oregon, Partners in Possibilities is a newer resource for connecting young adults with disabilities to volunteer experiences. Partners in Possibilities is one part of Diversability Village, a comprehensive resource list for people with disabilities in Central Oregon.