After graduating from college, I was living in Omaha, Nebraska and working at a small private doctor’s practice. It was a tough stretch at work — I felt unfulfilled. I wasn’t being challenged, and didn’t feel connected to the work I was doing. I dreamt of returning to my Minnesotan homeland aka the greatest place on earth.
My attitude and experience totally changed when I started putting down roots in my new community through volunteering. In 2014, my friend asked me to help with an event called the Torchlight Ball, a gala fundraiser that raises money for the Methodist Hospital’s Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Survivor Program.
The event made me realize how much I missed doing community service, which had always been a part of my childhood. The Torchlight Ball experience blossomed into deep connections and involvement with local charities like the Boys & Girls Club, Project Harmony, and the Nebraska Children & Families Foundation. My volunteer work gave me a feeling of home I had never felt before. I valued my city more because I cared about improving it, and I invested my time and money to do so.
Here are some ways community service made a huge difference in my life.
It helped me put down roots in my new community.
I attended Creighton University in Omaha, and while I loved Omaha as my college town, it didn’t really feel like mine yet. Thankfully, once I started volunteering, I also started experiencing a real sense of pride and ownership for the city. It transitioned from my “right now” location to my chosen home.
As I began to care more deeply about Omaha, I felt more settled than ever before. Volunteering helped me to discover new museums, projects, and attractions that people wanted to make accessible for all and keep around for future generations.
It developed my post-college social life.
I felt so awkward trying to make friends after college. If I met a cool girl out and about, I worried about seeming overeager if I invited her to brunch immediately. And in a city where most people raised here stay here, it can be hard to break into long-standing social circles. Enter volunteering.
After my Torchlight Ball experience, I joined the Junior League of Omaha, an all-female organization devoted to building strong communities and developing women as both professional and philanthropic leaders. That sparked several great friendships, and I’m happier here because of those connections. It also made volunteering more fun, because I got to spend time with people I enjoyed who shared my values.
It lead me to my husband.
In addition to my new circle of friends, volunteering also directly lead me to my husband. We met attending a charity wine tasting in 2014 that supported the local Boys & Girls Clubs. We both ended up getting more involved in planning future fundraising events, and our relationship deepened as we realized we shared both pride in the community and a passion for making a difference.
We’ve been married almost two years and volunteering is still a big part of our lives. As a team, we coordinate a blood donor drive for the Nebraska Community Blood Bank every spring in honor of his late parents. We support each other’s projects and enjoy sharing a hobby that actually does some good (unlike my mild Bravo addiction). It has also deepened our faith. I co-founded a women’s guild at the church we were married in, which has helped us to form relationships within our parish community, something that is vital as we start to think about growing our family.
It helped me learn about the issues affecting my community.
As a middle-class white woman, I know I have certain inherent privileges from the cards I’ve been dealt. So when I started volunteering with Project Everlast in Omaha, it opened my mind to issues I had never experienced. The program helps kids as they age out of the foster care system. With little or no support, it can be a huge challenge for older kids to start paying rent, figure out work, and learn how to be an adult. This experience made me much more aware of the cycle of poverty and what mechanisms are needed to help make kids self-sufficient adults. It also instilled a deeper sense of compassion for those less fortunate and encouraged me to think about all the things I’ve been taking for granted.
It gave me a sense of purpose.
As I mentioned, I was not happy in my work when I first began volunteering. But once I started giving back, I felt fulfilled and so much happier all around. Today, I’m happy in my work as a freelance writer, and I’m still an active volunteer at the WCA (Women’s Center for Advancement), Junior League of Omaha, and St. Margaret Mary Ladies Guild.
Overall, volunteering has helped me find a full and happy social life, a great husband, a sense of connection to my adopted city, and a feeling of greater purpose. It’s easy to see that volunteering feels good, does good, and can be a game changer for young adults.