Volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club of Burlington

There are many excellent reasons to consider volunteering. Volunteering can satisfy the community service requirements that many high schools now ask for, and a volunteer position  makes for a great addition to any resume or college application.

However, the rewards of volunteering extend far beyond the immediate, practical benefits. Volunteering gives individuals the chance to help the people that need help the most, and in doing so, bring about a genuine positive change in their community. Just take a quick look around, and you'll be able to find dozens of deserving places across Vermont in need of volunteer help.

For example, take the Boys and Girls Club of Burlington, a nonprofit organization that works with kids from kindergarten through twelfth grade. The Club is part of the Boys and Girls Club of America, a national network of community-based facilities dedicated to providing kids with a safe environment where they can find recreation, education, and guidance. Operating from four locations, the Club serves over 2,400 children through its different programs, and each day nearly 200 kids visit the main clubhouse in the Old North End.

The staff of the Boys and Girls Club of Burlington works alongside volunteers of all ages, including many high school students. “I think in our last year we had more than 100 regular volunteers coming in,” said Executive Director Mary Alice McKenzie. “It's really quite wonderful.”
 
Some of the jobs regularly done by volunteers include helping out at athletic events, preparing fund-raisers, and giving art and music lessons. Many volunteers work with the club's homework assistance program as well, helping children after school with their daily assignments. “It's not as much fun as playing in the gym with kids or doing an art project, but it is needed,” noted McKenzie. 
While volunteers perform many different functions at the Boys and Girls Club, McKenzie said that the most important service they provide is simply being there for the children who need them.

“Our mission is to serve the kids who need us most,” she explained. “Primarily, the kids who come to a Boys and Girls Club really need the Club. They may be living very complicated lives, with a lot of at-risk characteristics, so for them to be here is a positive thing and for them to come in contact with positive role models, be that paid staff or be that a high school student...that really brings a good perspective and brings value to that child's life.”

Volunteering can clearly accomplish a lot of good, both for the people who are being helped, and for the volunteers themselves. Through the process of helping others, volunteering allows individuals to step outside their comfort zones and learn about lives that are different from their own.

Volunteers, especially new volunteers, have the chance to broaden their perspectives and experience personal growth, said McKenzie.
“It's kind of an isolated pocket of the community, and for a high school student from a more financially secure background to see kids and understand some of the challenges for these kids, is eye opening and I think beneficial to the student involved,” she said.  “It's very much a mutually beneficial thing.”

For people interested in becoming volunteers, it's a simple process to get involved. There are lots of different opportunities available out there, and many organizations already have the resources in place in help match new volunteers with positions.

“The United Way has an enormous network of nonprofits that they work with and they have a volunteer training center,” said McKenzie. “They have staff who do nothing but help volunteers and find volunteer opportunities.”

“Sending an email to a specific nonprofit, calling an executive director – it's as easy as that,” she said.  “If you don't get an immediate response, follow up. It's okay to be persistent.”

One important thing for new volunteers to remember is to fully commit their new responsibilities. After a volunteer agrees to specified time,  they have an obligation to be consistent.

“Show up, be on time, and be dependable,” warned McKenzie. “That's the number one problem we have with younger volunteers. They often commit and then don't follow through. It's not good for the children who come here, who may be counting on seeing somebody. And then, when that person doesn't show, it's a disappointment.”

If you find yourself enjoying the work that you do, you may choose to pursue things further. Volunteering is a great way to explore your skills and interests, and a volunteer position can quite often evolve into a paying job. All you need to do is start looking around for possibilities. Whether you choose to donate your time to the local Boys and Girls Club, or a VA hospital, or the nearby state park, there are countless ways to volunteer, and in turn, countless ways for you to make a difference.