Volunteering is the bedrock of community engagement, especially in Denver, where the post-secondary-school student population exceeds 70,000. The Mile-High City is known as a bastion of spirited thinking and civic mindedness. As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says, "Whatever community organization, whether it's a women's organization, or fighting for racial justice…you will get satisfaction out of doing something to give back to the community that you never get in any other way."
For Denver college students, community service expands their understanding of pressing social issues, such as hunger, inadequate housing and the dearth of health care services for the poor. Volunteering is a way to meet like-minded people while supporting causes that teach personal responsibility, participatory citizenship and justice-oriented civics.
Volunteering enhances existing skill sets, as college students often find opportunities to parlay their abilities into meaningful projects. New skills are developed when students engage in projects for which they have no training. When added to a résumé, volunteer involvement during the college years can be seen as favorable by employers. Holly Simpson, a career counselor at Valparaiso University's Career Center says, "Volunteering is a great way to develop a variety of new skills that are essential in the workplace."
As the weather warms up, community service may not be the first thing on the minds of Denver college students. Many nonprofit groups facilitate community involvement without asking college students to forego their outdoor adventures and lifestyles during the summer break.
Habitat for Humanity is one of the top advocates for low-income housing opportunities. Act!Speak!Build! is a weeklong program that provides opportunities for students to learn about housing issues and initiate their own advocacy programs by speaking or writing about them. Under the Collegiate Challenge program, students address poverty-housing issues in select areas through actual involvement in cleanup projects or the construction of new houses.
If a trip abroad is viable, consider using a self-storage unit to stow personal belongings for safekeeping and then joining Habitat's Global Village program. Through this program, college students can travel to host communities worldwide to assist in shoring up substandard housing or building new homes. Global Village team members work alongside volunteers from other countries, providing great opportunities to meet people from around the world.
The demand for community programs geared to younger children kicks into high gear when school is not in session. Consider volunteering as a sports coach, activities assistant, pool lifeguard or reading tutor in any of Denver's community centers.
KaBOOM! is a nonprofit organization that builds children's playgrounds in collaboration with local residents and volunteers. While actual construction of the playgrounds usually takes place in one day, planning and funding take much longer. Coordinate with the group's local community partners to help with these efforts.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find opportunities in Denver's numerous state parks as volunteer guides and ranger assistants. Other possibilities include tree planting and census activities to aid forestry research. These programs promote environmental stewardship and hands-on advocacy for nature preservation.
Volunteer opportunities abound during the two- to three-week winter break as the holidays and cold weather approach.
Commit to a week of helping out in a soup kitchen, especially as the need for hot meals for the poor and homeless rise as the temperature drops. Helping prepare and serve holiday meals in any of Denver's soup kitchens is an enriching experience because it directly benefits those who have so little.
Volunteer participation may also come in the form of organizing food drives, packaging food baskets for indigent recipients, and preparing gifts for young children. Many charitable organizations focus on holiday-giving programs, including the Denver Children's Hospital, Denver Rescue Mission and the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Denver.
Volunteer Match is an excellent resource for finding organizations in the Denver area that could use the skills and enthusiasm college students offer.
Salvation Army's Red Kettle Christmas Campaign raises funds for the organization's community programs including toy and clothing distributions, holiday meals and temporary shelter programs. Bell ringers for this campaign are assigned a location and fitted with a Santa Claus costume.
For those with the resources and the inclination, traveling for volunteer opportunities is an excellent option. College students can join medical missions to South America to learn about health issues in less-developed nations, assist in orphanages in Haiti, or work with endangered animals in Asia. There are many organizations specializing in short-term volunteer trips for college students, including Projects Abroad, Westcoast Connection/360° Student Travel, and the Global Volunteer Network.
For Denver college students, volunteering is a productive way to spend summer and winter vacations. It is an enriching experience that will help students develop new skills and expand their world views. In the words of Gandhi, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
"The Emily Fund for a Better World", DoOneThing.org - http://www.doonething.org/heroes/pages-g/ginsburg-quotes.htm
"The Benefits of Volunteering While in College", Career Center - http://www.valpo.edu/career/workshop_programs/cvnbenefits.pdf
"Collegiate Challenge", Habitat for Humanity International - http://www.habitat.org/youthprograms/ages_14_25/default_collegiate_challenge.aspx
"Find Volunteer Opportunities", RingBells.org - http://www.ringbells.org/