Deciding to become an active participant in your community and volunteer your time has many benefits including: better physical and mental health, but is also a great way to build up your experiences and expertise. While you shouldn’t consider volunteering solely to “look good” on a college application or resume, volunteering can help you connect with people of different backgrounds and have a better understanding of your community.
Lend a helping hand
A great thing about volunteering in your community is that you don’t need to spend or even have a lot of money to offer a helping hand. Whether you sign up to deliver meals to elderly individuals living alone, join a group that provides free outdoor maintenance in the fall and winter, or volunteer to give individuals rides to and from appointments, you may find that your services will always be welcomed.
If you volunteer your time to lend a helping hand to an individual with a disability, the reward can be great. Not only are you helping him or her enjoy experiences within a community, but you will embark on a valuable friendship. The disability community is large and diverse, just like any other type of community, and by making an effort to create a connection, you will realize there are not as many differences as you may think.
While each individual with a disability has different needs, once you make a connection you may be able to help in the following ways (but always ask, never assume):
Offering Transportation: While some individuals with disabilities enjoy the social interactions of public transportation, others may prefer one on one transportation. You can volunteer to give a ride to a doctor’s appointment, a consultation with a lawyer to help secure Social Security benefits, for an appointment at the hair salon, or even for a grocery pickup. Keep in mind, if you offer a ride, don’t expect monetary compensation. If he or she insists on giving you something, suggest a cup of coffee so you can get to know him or her better.
Expand the Horizons of the Homebound: Many individuals, living with a disability, live alone or in a group home setting. While there is typically a lot of independence, many may feel “homebound” due to decreased mobility, lack of reasons to leave the home, or few friends to spend time with.
For example, if you volunteer to do general yard maintenance for an elderly woman who has a vision impairment, rather than always accepting that cup of tea in her tiny kitchen, invite her out to lunch or ask her if she’d like to attend an orchestral concert with you. She may be completely content (and prefer) to stay home, but your invite may have brightened her day.
Ditch the stigmas
When interacting with individuals with a disability, make sure to have an open mind. Ditch all of the stigmas surrounding their disabilities, their lifestyles, their incomes, their interests, their intellectual capabilities, and every other preconceived notion. Don’t offer to help others because you think you’re a “better person”, do it because you want to make a lifelong connection.