The beginning of fall is a time of transitions- a new school year for kids, a different sleep schedule as the days shorten, a change of wardrobe as the weather cools. I know that for many of my friends, these next few weeks are a whirlwind of relocating to cities, moving into new apartments, starting graduate programs, interviewing for jobs, and trying to make a life on their own. And while transitions can be exciting, they can also be anxiety-inducing.
Earlier this spring, I had a conversation with one of my friends as he reflected on his college experience and looked toward graduate school in the future. He talked about feeling a little lost, restless. He wasn’t sure of his path and was worried about moving to a new state where he wouldn’t know anyone. He described being stuck in a rut of self-pity. I’d hazard a guess that these feelings and fears aren’t unique to twentysomethings- everyone has times in their life when they feel disconnected from the world, like they just can’t get out of their own way. My friend asked me what I do during those times, and I told him how volunteering is something that makes me feel productive, helps me make connections, and gives me new perspective. This shouldn’t be a surprise- a quick Google search is all that’s needed to confirm that volunteering builds social bonds, improves mental health, and increases self-esteem. For me, the times I feel best about myself are the times when I’m able to help others. Whether it’s organizing shelves in a food pantry, cleaning a park trail, or reading to preschoolers, most of my memories of volunteering are filled with laughter and a sense of purpose.
I had forgotten all about our conversation until several months later, as my friend prepared to move. “I was thinking about what you said,” he told me, “about volunteering. I think when I get there I’m going to find a place in my new city and start.”
My guess is that most people reading this are not about to move to a different state. You may not be feeling lost or going through any sort of transition. But as the days get darker and colder, you may want that extra boost of energy that comes from spending time in service of others. Whether you’re interested in improving education, addressing food insecurity, or getting your whole company involved in service, United Way has all different kinds of opportunities to strengthen your community and yourself through volunteering.