by Deb Cook Lewis
I can say, without any reservations, that I had the most amazing career path with just enough adventure, success, variety and drama to keep me amused and amazed for almost 43 years in the workforce. But I also have to say that perhaps the most amazing part of this was the role that volunteering played in my pre-work life. Of course, I’m still volunteering out here for ACB and for one other organization that is important to me, but in the context of this article I’m talking strictly about the volunteer work that shaped my career.
I’m one who did everything wrong to set myself up for success. I chose a career where no one actually gets good employment, and then I dropped out of college before I was qualified to do anything. So now what was I going to do with myself?
I decided to volunteer myself into work experience and credibility. The processes would be a bit different these days, but I think the strategy can still apply. We have lots of tasks here at ACB, for example, that are definitely employment-worthy and are not staffed because we don’t have that capacity, so keep us in mind if you’re looking for work experience.
Meanwhile, I signed myself up with a reputable volunteer agency and told them I was available four days a week to volunteer up to 8 hours per day. I had a few stipulations. First, I wanted one job each day of the week. Next, I wanted these to be real work inasmuch as you can do that with volunteers. And finally, I wanted a letter of reference if I did the work well enough to be considered for hire. And I definitely wanted honest feedback if I did not perform to this level.
It wasn’t easy finding the four jobs, and accommodations in those days were not only quite optional but also hard to work out in some cases. But I was working with a great placement person in the volunteer office, my rehab counselor was on board, I was persistent, and ultimately some organizations stepped up to have me come and perform real jobs that were all very different from each other.
There’s not space here to write about the jobs and all I learned or experienced, but at the end of 9 months I had four marvelous letters singing the praises of all my work accomplishments, my soft skills, and that they would strongly consider me or recommend me for whatever I wanted to do.
Here at ACB we have volunteers in all capacities, from event planning to hosting in Community. I think about how this serves the organization and our community at large, but also how it can be a means to developing particularly the soft skills we need for employment. I appreciate so much all of the volunteer efforts of our members and friends. If you are genuinely looking for employment, think about how your volunteer experience may be applicable to your journey. It sure has been for mine!