Chasing Volunteering Hours in the USA

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Volunteering at Houston Food Bank
Sorting and repackaging of donated food items at Houston Food Bank

One hundred volunteer hours may sound like a lot, but as Rieski discovered, it went by pretty quickly. What volunteer opportunities are there in the US, and how can one find them? Read more to hear Rieski’s experience volunteering in Houston, Texas.

When I first heard the requirement of volunteering hours from the Community College Initiative (CCI) program, the scholarship that brought me to the States, I was in slight doubt. The scholarship required awardees to obtain a minimum of 100 volunteer hours in 10 months. I had lots of questions at the beginning. How would I achieve the targeted hours? How could I find a volunteering opportunity? What if I failed to reach that number? Could I get enough sleep throughout this program?

Those 100 hours sounded hard at first. I expected that to achieve the targeted hours might be a burden, but it really wasn’t. There were many organizations that open doors for anybody and many public events that obviously need volunteers. So, there was no reason for not volunteering every week. Instead, I always get excited to sign up as a volunteer because there were lots of benefits from volunteering that I enjoyed.

Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF USA
Encouraging children to take a part in the Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF USA at Houston Children’s Museum last year.

To become a volunteer in the USA is actually very simple. The easiest way to find a volunteer opportunity is, of course, by googling. My second suggestion is to create an account on websites that connects people to nonprofit agencies, such as Volunteer Match or Volunteer Houston. Because I stayed in Houston, I used Volunteer Houston to help me find a volunteer opportunity. The third tip is networking. For some people, building a connection to a new person can be difficult, but somehow the networking skills helped me a lot. Sometimes I got a volunteer opportunity from a friend of a friend of a friend. Fourth, the campus has many resources with lots of useful information for the students, so I also got the opportunity from there.

Water Walk
Giving a trivia question to a Water Walk’s participant at The Health Museum.
Water Walk is a UNICEF global campaign aiming to raise awareness on water, hygiene, and sanitation.

Every volunteering activity always has its own story to tell. I remember one early morning, my friend and I took a bus to a place we thought needed volunteers. When we arrived two hours later, nobody was there. It didn’t even look like the place was open. For several minutes, we checked the area, tried to call the contact person, and then jumped to the conclusion that the information posted on the internet might not be updated. Not giving up, we googled and found another organization that needed volunteers in the same morning. We immediately took a bus again and headed to another place. We had no idea what we were going to do there. 

Apparently, the place we went to was a homeless service. I was assigned to sort the clothes and hygiene supplies for the homeless, while my friend worked in the mailroom. While I was working, there were also other volunteers. Many of them were retired seniors who regularly volunteer there because they just loved to help people in need. Watching those people served for the homeless made me touched by their kindness.

Homeless service
Volunteers sorted clothing donations at a homeless service

There are two places in particular that I really enjoyed volunteering at. Because I love food and books (who doesn’t?), Houston Food Bank and Friends of Houston Public Library were such amazing places for me. Unfortunately, both of them required a long bus ride from my apartment, but I truly enjoyed working there. At the Houston Food Bank, the largest food bank in the States, volunteers sorted the food and prepared meals for the community who needed and when it came to food, I always got excited. It was also a very satisfying activity because everybody worked in a group and everything was well-organized. Meanwhile, at the Friends of Houston Public Library, I sorted the donated books with a fancy scanner in a book warehouse and I also created the papercraft arts for bookshop display. I took a peek inside the books several times and somehow I felt pity when I had to throw some damaged books to a recycled box. 

Houston Food Bank warehouse
A long queue of volunteers in front of Houston Food Bank warehouse

Besides the exciting things that I experience, there were also challenges that we experienced. As I mentioned above, some of the places that I went to were so far because I relied on the Metro bus to go everywhere. On the other hand, that challenge taught me time management. Sometimes there was a little language barrier, but it wasn’t a big issue because if there was something that I didn’t understand, people were willing to explain and ensure that everything was clear. 

Book donations
Scanning donated and discarded books were fun

In general, my volunteering experience in the USA was remarkable and I gained countless memories. Before, during, and after finishing the scholarship program, all of those activities really showed me why volunteerism is really matters. There was a wonderful feeling when people appreciated our help and presence. It feels so rewarded when they said “thank you” after successfully completing the task. It also gave me a chance to explore and get to know the local community closer. At the same time, I had fun and developed the skills. In the end, that 100-targeted-hours was just a number. Now, after returning home, I am inspired to seek another volunteer opportunity.