For so many people, waking up Monday morning comes with a sense of dread — starting another week of work and holding on until 5 p.m. Friday when you can again enjoy your life over the weekend. Although this is not everyone’s experience, it’s far more common than many want to admit. The secret to not experiencing that 9-5 dread is to choose a profession that you are passionate about and find rewarding, a job that you will look forward to when you wake up in the morning.
Because social work is a highly empathic profession that requires personal investment in the lives of individuals and communities, many social workers find their work extremely rewarding and fulfilling — an opportunity to serve, connect, help, and make a real difference in the lives of others.
How to Get Into Social Work
It is easy for a potential social worker to look at the field and be overwhelmed by the number of specializations available to them. With three levels of social work practice (macro, mezzo, and micro) and dozens of specializations and areas available within each level — how do you decide which is right for you? And how do you get a feel for a particular area of social work, before investing in a degree or applying for a position in the field?
An excellent, easy, and free way to explore various areas of social work is to volunteer. Not only will you learn what populations you want to help and which you are not compatible with, but you’ll have the opportunity to give back in the process, a true win-win. Read on to explore seven social work volunteer opportunities and the responsibilities you can expect with each.
Homeless Outreach Program
In a homeless outreach program, such as a soup kitchen, shelter, or other community outreach designed specifically to address the needs of the homeless, you can expect to volunteer in a variety of ways depending on the needs and scope of the center. Each program is unique and may provide a number of different services for their guests including meals, showers, laundry, temporary sleeping arrangements, career counseling, prayer ministry, educational opportunities, computer access, and more. As a volunteer you may be asked to serve in some of these ways:
- Coordinating volunteers to bring meals and do laundry
- Helping maintain the center
- Visiting with guests and listening to them
- Offering assistance with resume preparation and helping hone professional skills
- Coordinating aid from outside groups who wish to come and serve the program
Tutoring centers are generally affiliated with public school systems or country education initiatives, and frequently provide free or reduced-cost academic assistance to students in poor or underprivileged areas. These programs serve all age groups from elementary to high school students and are usually available as after-school or weekend opportunities. As a volunteer you may be asked to serve in some of these ways:
- Providing academic instruction and guidance
- Ensuring the center is stocked with supplies
- Coordinating with parents and caregivers to ensure student safety
- Keeping detailed records of the center attendees
Crisis Pregnancy Center
There are a wide variety of crisis pregnancy centers out there that provide free prenatal, post-natal, infant care and care items to women who otherwise would not have access to these services. These centers exist to support mothers and their children and provide them with equal access to pregnancy and newborn necessities. Although it varies from center to center, they provide items such as ultrasounds, prenatal health screenings, prenatal vitamins, diapers, wipes, formula, clothes, strollers, cribs, newborn care education, food for families, and much more. As a volunteer you may be asked to serve in some of these ways:
- Sorting, labeling, and organizing donations
- Offering a listening ear to mothers who are seeking help
- Creating care packages for new mothers
- Coordinating resources and assigning them to those in need
The Red Cross
The Red Cross is well known for its world-wide presence and helpful assistance in communities where there is great need. From disaster relief services to food pantries to medical missions, the Red Cross stands ready to help with a wide variety of services and assistance programs. The Red Cross has chapters at the national, state, and local level where aspiring social workers can get involved and volunteer. The opportunities to assist are almost endless, but you may be asked to serve in some of these ways:
- Blood drive coordinator/recruiter
- Disaster Action Team member
- Health and Safety Instructor
- Community Organizer
- Armed Forces Case Worker
The YMCA is another one of the nation’s leading volunteer organizations. The purpose of the YMCA is to offer space and resources for youth and community development. The YMCA is unique in that its aim is to foster the development of the whole person, body, mind, and spirit, and to make this holistic development widely accessible to all members of all communities. The YMCA also strives to instill a sense of social responsibility in young people and encourage them to give back to their communities. As a volunteer you may be asked to serve in some of these ways:
- Childcare provider
- Hobby leader
- Healthy eating and lifestyle instructor
- Special events coordinator
Nursing Homes and Hospice
In nursing homes and hospice care facilities you will have the opportunity to interact with residents and those who are in need of significant medical care. Most of the volunteer work that occurs within these settings is a ministry of presence — simply being with people. Nursing homes are staffed, but the staff doesn’t have a significant amount of spare time to dedicate to conversing with the residents, socializing with them, helping them with activities and recreation, and simply listening to them. This is some of the most important and meaningful work that takes place in a nursing home and hospice care because it offers real human dignity to the residents. As a volunteer you may be asked to serve in some of these ways:
- Planning and leading games and activities
- Creating a social calendar and coordinating social events
- Visiting with and listening to residents
- Accompanying residents from one place to another
RAINN is the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network. RAINN is the largest nonprofit anti-sexual assault organization in the United States and exists to provide help and hope to victims of sexual abuse. They operate the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE) in partnership with local sexual assault service providers across the country. The work to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. As a volunteer you may be asked to serve in some of these ways:
- Become a trained crisis hotline volunteer
- Volunteer in your local community with a sexual assault support organization
- Organize an awareness event or fundraiser to support RAINN
Get started volunteering today!
Volunteering with any one of these (or countless other) organizations will provide you with the opportunity to give back to your community, make a difference, and simultaneously explore a potential area of social work practice. Although as a professional social worker you will have more responsibility and a more involved role, volunteering helps you to narrow down your specialization or area of interest by allowing you to interact with several different populations and groups and get a feel for each.
So, before declaring a specialization as part of your MSW, get out there and make a difference in the lives of those around you!
Want to take a deeper dive into what it takes to begin a career in social work? Explore our resource — The Guide to Launching Your Career in Social Work.