Saturday, January 11, 2014

Welcome, 2014

My biggest lesson from 2013 and biggest goal for 2014 are the same: get involved. I have had the time of my life by volunteering and DOING things, and I look forward to even more in the future. If that rings true for you, too, keep reading for my top 10 suggestions for getting involved in 2014.

1. Buffalo has a long history of invention and good ideas. Google them, or watch one of the local TEDx events on Youtube to hear the latest ones.
2. Buffalo has many historic places and stories. Check out cool blogs like Buffalo Streets or take an active part in saving them through things like Mass Mobs and Buffalo's Young Preservationists.
3. Buffalo has a lot of good news in its future, as well as a long way to go. Keep up with new developments through places like Buffalo Rising, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, and One Region Forward.

4. Join a nonprofit board of directors - but only if you're serious about giving them both your time and money. I took a training series at the United Way that covers the basic information you need to know.
5. Contribute to a local Kickstarter campaign or three - get great perks for any giving amount, and see something awesome succeed because of you.
6. Sign up for a community garden or for a local farmshare - know your farmer, or be your farmer!

7. Learn about and interact with refugees and other cultures - get to know your neighbors. An easy way to start is by talking with business owners when you visit their store.
8. Tour your own city - what are the highlights you would recommend to others, and have you been there?
9. Make a Buffalo Bucket List - it helps motivate you to explore & prioritize what to do with your weekend or dinner date.

Volunteering covers all three concepts, and has a host of benefits besides. I've spent more time researching these than I would like to admit. For starters, volunteering
-->  is completely based on your interests and passions
-->  is flexible based on your schedule
-->  makes you healthier
-->  makes you happier
-->  offers great experiences and connections

For some longer-term commitments focusing on relationships, look at places like
*  Journey's End (mentor a refugee family - introduce them to Buffalo. I can connect you!)
*  Big Brothers Big Sisters (mentor a child - gain a sibling)
*  SPCA or other pet rescue organizations (foster animals - save lives)

For the option of shorter-term commitments focusing on single events, look at places like
*  B-Team Buffalo (young professionals who organize events & volunteer together)
*  Visit Buffalo Niagara (be a Buffalo Ambassador to tourists and visitors)
*  City of Night (because cool things are cooler when you help make them happen)

I am a Manager of Volunteers by day, and an avid volunteer by night. I've found it to be incredibly rewarding, and the hardest part is not being able to say yes to every opportunity. Buffalo is the kind of place where you can Do Something, and a big reason why is because your neighbors will support it in whatever way they can. Buffalo has lots of Good Things and Bad Things happening, but the real magic is when those things become "My Things" in your head because of your investment in them.

Volunteer managers at nonprofits are generally insanely busy and often managing volunteers is only a small part of their job, or they may even be volunteering for that position. When you go to volunteer, keep these tips in mind if you want to be the Best Volunteer Ever:

-->  Give nonprofit employees lots of slack for slow response times or apparent disorganization. Even better than slack, give them encouragement.
-->  Treat volunteering as a professional commitment in all ways. If you think of it more like being at work than like being at home, you'll do great.
-->  Be sure you know what you want to do and when you can do it. Then only volunteer places that need what you can offer.

Not to belabor a point, but volunteering and otherwise investing in your community is incredibly satisfying and Buffalo is the perfect place to do it. Dive in!

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