Volunteer Opportunities That Teach Valuable Skills

by Emily Guy Birken

In 2003, I became an AmeriCorps volunteer. For nearly a year, I worked in the art room of a Boys & Girls Club in Columbus, Ohio, creating educational and fun projects for 6-12 year olds. It was a rewarding, challenging, and educational part of my career.

I can also say that it truly helped me later on when I decided to become a high school English teacher. During my student teaching, I felt fairly comfortable with classroom management and discipline—which are usually the bane of a new teacher’s existence—because I had already learned some great techniques during my time as a volunteer with the Boys & Girls Club.

Learn useful skills through volunteering

Volunteering can teach you valuable skills

Job seekers who are having trouble finding work are often urged to spend some time volunteering. It is yet another great way to network, it helps to alleviate the stress of the job search, and it also can keep your skills fresh or introduce some new ones. Here are some great volunteer opportunities that will help you learn something new:

1. Habitat for Humanity. I learned some of the (very few) home renovation skills that I know from doing a couple of stints with Habitat for Humanity. This great charity helps to build affordable homes for needy families. Depending on the volunteer need, you could end up having an opportunity to learn various building skills from experts.

If you’re a do-it-yourself expert, Habitat can also offer you an opportunity to lead a crew, teach newbies, or manage a schedule. All of those skills translate to great resume boosters, giving you yet another excellent reason for lending your skills to a good cause.

2. Soup Kitchens. Volunteering at a soup kitchen could give you any number of useful experiences. Any of the work in the kitchen—from preparing the meals to serving them to cleaning up—translate well to the skills needed for a restaurant worker. Some soup kitchens need volunteers to deliver meals to homebound individuals. This can help you feel more connected to your community—and for someone new to town, it can be a great way to learn your way around.

3. Crisis Counseling. Whether you volunteer in a battered women’s shelter, or as an operator at a crisis hotline, this kind of work is not for the faint of heart. But this can be great training for anyone interested in going into social work, counseling, or psychology. Because this sort of volunteer work requires fairly extensive training, it is definitely a great step for anyone considering a career in the helping fields.

4. Museum Docent. Showing tour groups around your local museum not only helps you bone up on art history, but it also gives you a chance to learn public speaking skills, time management, and thinking on your feet. (Ask anyone who has worked as a docent—they can tell you that there’s always a stumper of a question every few tours).

5. Animal Shelter. A love of animals is all you need to spend some time volunteering at an animal shelter, but you can also learn some important skills, as well. If you are interested in becoming a veterinarian or a vet’s lab assistant, your time at the shelter will give you a leg up over those who have not spent time with animals in a formal setting.

Volunteering means that you selflessly give your time to a good cause, but often, you gain much more than you give when you volunteer.

Photo credit: vastateparksstaff

Published or updated January 27, 2012.
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tyler S.

I’m putting this idea to work in volunteering at my local hospital. I’m looking to get into medical school, and I’m seeing what kinds of things doctors do or don’t do that patients and nurses notice.
I’ve learned some pretty valuable lessons in just a few weeks. If you’re looking to give back, why not get something for yourself in return??


2 Daniel Milstein

That is so true Birken. As an author and business man, I can relate to how you said “This can help you feel more connected to your community—and for someone new to town, it can be a great way to learn your way around”. I hope more people discover your blog because you really know what you’re talking about. Can’t wait to read more from you!


3 Jeff Crews

I volunteered a whole summer for Major League Soccer during college. It was a great time to learn and network. Volunteering is a great way to show people you are truly dedicated to something.


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