The Razor’s Edge, by Madeleine Richey

We don’t always realize that sometimes the most valuable thing we have to give is our time, and not only our time, but effort. But it’s not all give and no get. Volunteering benefits everyone involved.

Summer is in full swing, and what better time to spend part of our day volunteering when we have the entire day, every day, to spend on ourselves. To a lot of people, the time spent volunteering may seem like time wasted. Some feel taken advantage of, because sometimes they do work others are paid to do. But as I said before, you benefit too.

Giving, however, is the biggest benefit of all. You have the opportunity to improve someone else’s life. It makes you a better person, and hopefully it improves the other person’s outlook on the world when they see that someone is willing to help them.

The economy is getting worse. The job market is growing worse as well. There are fewer jobs and more people competing for them. That means, in order to get a job you need skills that employers want. And more than that, you need skills that other prospective employees DON’T have. You have to be better. That means you need good communication skills, a hard work ethic (don’t be lazy!), and the ability to learn and adapt. Another thing that gives you an edge in the job market—and not just a small edge—is job experience. The problem with job experience is that it requires a job to get it, and as previously stated, jobs are hard to come by. But a way to get around that is volunteer work. It shows you are reliable, willing to work, and possess the ability to pick up skills quickly and be a valuable asset.

I can speak for the usefulness of volunteer work because I have been volunteering for years. First, at our local library for nearly four years; I learned the ins and outs of how a library works and forged great relationships with the librarians. Not only was it enjoyable, they later agreed to serve as references when I started applying for paying jobs.

Second, I began to volunteer with a children’s charity, CARITAS for Children (I still work with them). I was only 14, but the founder was willing to take a chance and let me volunteer, starting with simply licking envelopes and attaching stamps and address labels at the office once a week, then up to outreach, finding people to contact and making lists of information so that we can find sponsors for children in impoverished countries. Soon I will hopefully be going on a mission trip with this charity. Not only has working with CARITAS given me work experience, and someone who is willing to be a reference when I apply for jobs, I have relationships with the people who work there. These friendships will endure for a very long time, and they are worth every minute I have put into volunteering. And even more than that, I am helping children in Africa, Haiti, and Poland. Knowing that is very satisfying.

And third, I have recently begun working with an independent publishing company, leading their public relations department. By volunteering with them, I am not only gaining experience in the PR and publishing fields, I am helping them make their dream a reality, while at the same time creating friendships with people I would not have met otherwise.

These are great examples of what volunteering can give you—a rewarding experience and friendships, plus the added benefit of work experience.  And the great thing about volunteering is that if you start and find you that you really don’t like the job you’re doing, you can quit.

Here is a list of places that readily accept volunteers. And if you’re not interested in anything on the list, ask around. Most places are very willing to take on a volunteer.

Habitat for Humanity: Help build homes for those in need! Go to:

Your local library: Find their website or just walk right in and ask a librarian.

Nursing homes: What better way to help than visiting, playing music, or reading to the elderly.

Food pantry: Volunteering to help serve a meal is a very rewarding experience. (I love meeting the people and listening to the stories they have to tell.) Smile as you serve them, and look them in the eyes—it really brightens their day.

Church: Your church probably has loads of volunteer opportunities. You can participate in children’s activities, childcare, cleaning, or an outreach program.

Other: Mow someone’s lawn, shovel snow, or volunteer to babysit kids. It all counts!

Madeleine, 16, says: “I want to help people and I want to tell stories, especially the stories of people who don’t have a voice of their own.” Visit her blog at

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