Summer break for students provides great opportunity for volunteer service
Jul. 07, 2013 @ 03:00 PM

Summer break can be a complete waste of time for students. Or, it can be a truly life-changing experience.

It’s easy to spend two months drifting from one place to another, simply passing time while forgetting what you worked so hard to learn months before. Or, you can spend that time experiencing the world from a different perspective, helping others learn something new and using your knowledge in exciting ways.

In other words: This break from classes can be good or bad, and it all depends on how you use it.

Don’t think you need to go far from home to make summer vacation one of those meaningful experiences! In a diverse community like ours, you don’t need to hop a plane to speak a different language, explore new foods and experience how people live in locations far from home. You can do it without ever leaving the area.

And there are countless opportunities to learn something new, help others and apply what you’ve already learned.

How? Why not spend a few hours each week helping our dozens of church and nonprofit organizations?

Let’s say you’re an aspiring writer. Volunteer with a service organization that has helped neighbors who have interesting stories to tell. By making some calls, talking with engaging people and telling their stories, you can create interesting articles for an organizational newsletter, uncover facts that can be used on social media or maybe even produce a news story for the local paper.

Are you thinking about a career in child care or recreation? Day care centers, Vacation Bible Schools and summer camps are always looking for people to read stories, supervise games or help with arts and crafts. You get to experience what it might be like actually to work in the field and, at the same time, you’re giving children an example to follow and helping young people get excited about learning.

The options are almost limitless. If you enjoy cooking, there are ministries and nonprofits preparing and serving meals. If you’re a musician, there are young audiences in summer camps, older audiences in retirement centers and people of all ages in between who want to enjoy your talent. And if you think you have no particular skill to contribute — which almost certainly isn’t true, but we do hear that from time to time — there are organizations everywhere that simply need to have contributions sorted or shelved.

You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s absolutely true: Volunteering is not only good for the people you help, but it’s good for you, too. We hear this all the time, even from people who never wanted to help in the first place. They begin by seeing how much it means to other people, and that changes their own perspective about others. Then, they learn new skills. They get a new point of view. It changes the way they think about the world — and even about themselves.

And, while it can sound crass, there’s another truth about volunteering: It helps you get a good job or accepted at college. It doesn’t guarantee success, of course, but think about it. When you see someone who has given their time to help others, you know that person has a broader range of experience, shows initiative and has a desire to serve others. This is the kind of person you want on your campus — or in your workforce.

It’s not too late to begin! There are many more weeks of summer left to get involved and get a new perspective. One way to begin is to ask around your church or contact organizations that need the kind of expertise you’d like to provide. If that’s not obvious, one place to go is, a free community website that matches volunteers and organizations that need their help.

At, you can browse dozens of organizations to learn what they do and even see what kind of help is needed right now. To make it even easier, you can register on the site and list how you’d like to volunteer; will match your interest with needs in our community and make the connection for you. It’s a perfect opportunity that’s just a few clicks away.

Why waste another minute? With so many groups needing you, one of those life-changing experiences could be just moments away.

Jan Hayes is executive director of the United Way of Lee County.