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VOL. 126 | NO. 121 | Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Volunteer Opportunities Can Parlay Into Jobs


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Angela Richards and Tunya Alexander have two things in common. They both work at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Memphis Inc., and they both got those jobs by volunteering with the organization first.

Angela Richards works in administration at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Memphis.
(Photo: Brandon Dill)

Richards was laid off from her previous job in 2009. She tried finding employment by traditional means – sending out resumes – but was getting little to no results. Then a friend suggested volunteering at a nonprofit organization as a way to network. The friend had worked for a nonprofit herself, and she provided Richards with a list of organizations and the names of people to call.

“I sat down one morning and made the calls,” Richards said. “By afternoon, I had two volunteer opportunities: one at Girls Inc., and one at Big Brothers Big Sisters. It just so happened that here (BBBS) they had an opening, but I didn’t know that when I called. I volunteered at one place in the morning and one in the afternoon, and at the end of two weeks I had a job offer.”

The traditional job interview was replaced by the interview that got her accepted as a volunteer, and the “resume” was her performance during her two weeks of service.

Alexander got her start at BBBS of Greater Memphis as part of an assignment for a class in the social work program at the University of Memphis. The assignment required her to volunteer at a nonprofit and shadow a social worker. Alexander chose BBBS because she knew working with children was something she would enjoy.

Over the course of about three months, she went from volunteer to intern to employee. She’s been a case manager for BBBS now for eight months.

Both women attest to the fact that volunteer work has many benefits for the job seeker.

“I would recommend it – if for no other reason than to keep yourself busy and to keep your skills up,” Richards said.

Alexander’s experience showed her what sort of environment she’d like to work in.

“When I walked in here, I just knew I would be comfortable,” she said. “It was a family-oriented environment, and I really love working with the children. It’s been a good experience for me.”

Kevin Simonton of The Memphis Career Transition Group Network agrees wholeheartedly. Simonton recently emailed a list of local organizations needing volunteers to CT Group members and suggested they grab the opportunity to broaden their network while helping someone in need.

Another benefit of volunteering is that it provides some relief from the depression that sometimes settles in as a result of prolonged unemployment.

“There’s nothing like helping people in worse situations than your own to make you appreciate your own situation and think positively about life,” Simonton said.

The volunteer work path to employment also allows the job seeker to include another element in his daily life that some jobs lack: passion.

Barbara Standing’s story is an example of a passion becoming not only a job, but a true occupation. Standing, now the director of development for Mid-South Spay & Neuter Services, was a pilot for JetBlue Airways when she was forced to take a medical leave of absence.

“I had no intention of leaving my airline pilot career,” she said. “It was my dream job.”

The only disadvantage to the job was that the strict regulations required for safety allowed no outlet for Standing’s creative side. She had been volunteering at what is now Mid-South Spay & Neuter for about four years when she took her medical leave. Her duties had included everything from laundry to wrapping surgery packs to cat recovery.

“As an animal lover with rescued pets, I always wanted to do more,” she said. “I already had six pets, so I couldn’t adopt the thousands of others that needed homes.”

So there came a point where she felt the desire to transfer her efforts to the bigger picture of acquiring funding to support the clinic’s efforts. Standing began creating fundraisers to raise money and awareness for the clinic, so by the time the director of development job came open a year and a half ago, she was a natural fit.

“In the end for me, volunteering meant an unplanned mid-life career change to doing the most rewarding work imaginable,” she said.

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