Volunteering your time to a cause you support can be one of the most rewarding experiences for an individual. It also be a stepping stone to becoming a more engaged citizen more closely connected to your own life passions. It can make you a better person.
For a majority of Millennials still getting established in life and at work, it's not practical for us to open our check books and donate significant sums of money. By investing time and energy, however, we can play a direct role in helping to build a better city.
I recently had the opportunity to volunteer at the City's District 5 Senior Center at 2701 S. Presa St., just south of the historic Lavaca neighborhood.
After arriving I was given a brief tour of the facility and instructions for what I would be doing for the afternoon. I was paired with Raul Cadena, who has been volunteering at the center for two years. Cadena, a native San Antonian who lives in Southtown, says it's more about giving back to the community where he grew up.
“I'm from this area and it feels good to give back,” Cadena said.
Changes to the city’s volunteer program have yielded great results. Since its implementation in 2013, the city has recruited more than 7,900 volunteers to participate in more than 200 activities throughout San Antonio. The goal of recruiting 8,600 volunteers by year's end is well within reach.
We were in charge of setting up and handing out lunches for 75 senior citizens, organizing prepared meals that's delivered every day from a centralized location. We placed beverages, utensils, and the main course on a table in the front of the main gathering room. The seniors seemed really happy to have new faces join them in their daily lunch and genuinely appreciated the volunteers dedicating their time to make sure everyone had a proper meal. Within 45 minutes, our job was done, but I stuck around to chat with some of the City and senior center staffers.
I met with Melissa Escamilla, a young professional who started her career as a volunteer coordinator for The San Antonio Humane Society. She now serves as the citywide volunteer coordinator for the City of San Antonio.
“All great cities have engaged citizens; San Antonio is no different," said Escamilla. "We need people to care about their communities and to get actively involved. The city has been proactive at finding new, user-friendly methods to encourage Millennials to give back."
“Most young people are comfortable on the Internet, so we had to adapt and switch our program's registration process online,” said Escamilla. Since 2013, the City has consolidated every department's volunteer opportunities into a single website. San Antonio is one of the first cities in the state to centralize volunteer programs.
Once on the website, you can easily find a link to a calendar listing volunteering opportunities. There's a simple online registration form, a volunteer's handbook, and a volunteer information center. You can select the department that interests you the most, and receive alerts when opportunities arise to participate.
For animal lovers, Animal Care Services has opportunities to assist with kennel care, adoptions, and administrative duties among other things.
If your passion is local history, The Office of Historic Preservation seeks volunteer tour guides, assist with historic surveys of San Antonio neighborhoods, and lend a helping hand with minor repairs of historic properties.
You can volunteer your time with the Office of Development Services/Code Enforcement, where you can adopt a bus stop or clean an alley in your neighborhood. Parks and Recreation offers people a chance to plant trees, and educational activities to promote a sustainable environment and improve the quality of life in our city.
You can assist senior citizens by handing out lunches, as we did, or by teaching educational classes. The senior center we visited, for example, runs a food pantry every second Wednesday of every month. They need able bodies to help distribute the food to seniors in need.
My time at the senior center was brief, but I did get a sense that my energy and effort brought me closer to the community in which I care so deeply about. By volunteering, you get a chance to experience your community in a more intimate way that draws you closer to your city.
I have to commend the City and its efforts to draw in more volunteers and to try, at a grassroots level, to help people become more invested in community. Visit the city’s volunteer website and register. You may discover your passion or discover something new, about your city and yourself.
*Featured/top image: A volunteer spending time at Animal Care Services. Photo courtesy of The City of San Antonio.