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Tuesday September 2nd 2014

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The Dos and Don’ts of Being a Do-Gooder

By Jennifer Leigh

You may have been thinking about volunteering at a non-profit for years, but have yet to act upon it. You don’t have to let laziness or intimidation hold you back. No matter how much time you have to give or what your skill set is, you can start making a difference in 2014. Before you sign up, take this advice on making the most of your benevolence.

Research: Find an organization that serves a cause or issue that you care deeply about. Having passion will only make your volunteer work that much more rewarding. We’ve already started this part for you—see below for a round-up of some local non-profits that we think are worth looking into.

Think of your skill set: Do you like to write? Are you an awesome photographer? Do you enjoy engaging with the public? Whatever your talents may be, they are invaluable. Many times, signing up to volunteer is similar to applying for a job. Don’t be afraid of the “humble brag” and discuss your qualifications, interests and background in person or on your volunteer form.

Keep an open mind: Volunteering provides plenty of opportunities to learn a new skill or develop professionally. Do allow yourself to step outside your comfort zone.

Manage your time: Don’t allow yourself to feel overwhelmed. Track your obligations in your calendar (whether you carry a planner, use a smart phone application or both). Don’t be afraid to say no if you have a hectic week and don’t feel guilty if you only have a limited amount of time to spare. Keep your schedule in mind when you sign up to volunteer as well. For example, mentoring a child may require more time than assisting with a fundraiser event.

Have fun: While volunteering is more about donating your time to a worthy cause, you should allow yourself to enjoy this time and make new friends. You can also see about volunteering alongside your friends and family. If your volunteering experience isn’t what you were expecting, talk to the volunteer coordinator. Don’t give up.

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Get Started: Some Local Non-Profits Worth Looking Into
Whatever your interest or passion is, there’s a local organization to match. And they all strive to improve the community where you live and work. Don’t see what you’re looking for here? This is just a small list of organizations. Check out the United Way of Escambia County by visiting unitedwayescambia.org and find an extensive list of non-profits under their agency directory.

For the teens:
Chain Reaction: Open to middle and high school students aged 13-18, Chain Reaction links students with meaningful volunteer opportunities in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. mychainreaction.org

All about kids:
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida: The youth mentoring program matches volunteers to children to help strengthen communities and help kids build their futures. bbbsnwfl.org
Boy and Girls Club of the Emerald Coast: Providing safe after school and summer programs to kids from 5 to 18-years-old, Boys and Girls Club aims to give kids the confidence to achieve their full potential. bgcec.com
Gulf Coast Kid’s House: GCKH is a private, non-profit that provides services to victims of child abuse in Escambia County. The organization also provides prevention education for both adults and children. gulfcoastkidshouse.org

Keep it in the Family
Families Count: At Families Count, social workers, nurses and other professionals work together to provide family services in Northwest Florida. You can become a community advocate by donating your time to their several programs. familiescount.net
FavorHouse of Northwest Florida, Inc.: FavorHouse offers shelter, counseling and a 24-hour crisis line to victims of domestic abuse. Volunteers are provided with comprehensive training to help give direct assistance to victims. favorhouse.org
Habitat for Humanity: This Christian ministry provides housing for low income families. To keep the cost low, Habitat uses the labor of thousands of volunteers. Even if you’re not handy, you can still contribute in the office or by becoming a committee member. pensacolahabitat.org
Junior League of Pensacola: Women of all ages join Junior League to focus on the needs of children and families in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. juniorleagueofpensacola.org

Lend a Hand
American Cancer Society: Giving a ride to a chemotherapy appointment or volunteering at Relay for Life are just some of the ways you can help fight the good fight against cancer. cancer.org
ARC Gateway, Inc.: Whether you’re working in the gift shops or adopting a group home, spending time to help ARC Gateway create great life experiences for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities is time well spent. arc-gateway.org
Independence for The Blind of West Florida: A task as simple as helping someone run an errand makes a huge difference for those who are visually impaired. ibwest.org

Helping the Homeless
EscaRosa Coalition on the Homeless: ECOH helps oversee the care of homeless men, women and families by working with a collection of agencies. Volunteering can be anything from helping out at a fundraiser, to assisting with the annual Point in Time survey. ecoh.org
Streets and Lanes Ministry: Cathy Harris, founder of Streets and Lanes, helps meet the physical and spiritual needs of homeless men, women and families by providing a weekly lunch and prayer as well as donating clothes, toiletries and any necessary items. streetsandlanesministry.com
Waterfront Rescue Mission: The Waterfront Rescue Mission is more than a thrift store. By volunteering with the Mission, you are helping men and women find a way out of homelessness through the recovery programs. waterfrontmission.org

Feed the Need
Appetite 4 Life: Providing one of life’s most basic needs, Appetite 4 Life extends nutrition services to individuals living with terminal illness. You can get involved by helping deliver meals, preparing food or even assisting with administrative duties. appetite4life.org
Manna Food Pantry: The local food bank serves more than 40,000 in Northwest Florida annually through its five distribution sites in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. It takes dozens of volunteers to keep operations running smoothly. mannafoodpantries.org
Four Blades of Grass: Gulf Coast culinary professionals came together to create Four Blades of Grass, an organization that aims to end hunger of children and the elderly along the Emerald Coast. fourbladesofgrass.com