By Scott Prater, Fort Carson Mountaineer
As we transition into the holiday season, thoughts often turn to memories of past special meals, events and celebrations, gatherings with family and friends, and other anticipated yearly traditions. It’s also the time of year when people often gain motivation for helping those in need.
While the veteran volunteer may find opportunities easily during the holiday season, especially if they have connections with community helping agencies already, newbies may find it difficult to find the right environment or type of work that suits them best.
Joey Bautista, Fort Carson Volunteer Services manager, explained that potential holiday-time volunteers can make the process of finding the right opportunity easier by contacting a resource agency.
“Army Community Service (ACS) at Fort Carson has quite a lengthy list of helping agencies on an off post that people can learn more about,” he said. “Those who put a little planning and research in prior to searching for opportunities should have better success at finding just the right fit for them.”
ACS’s resource list includes more than 50 local agencies that assist the community in a wide variety of ways, including the American Red Cross, CASA of the Pikes Peak Region, the Boys & Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity, Operation Homefront, Catholic Charities, Silver Key Senior Services, the Salvation Army and Pikes Peak United Way.
Before choosing an agency to assist, however, volunteers should answer a number of questions for themselves, according to Celsie Day, ACS volunteer coordinator.
“It’s a good idea to consider the number of hours or days you have to contribute,” Day said. “From there, you should decide if you want to utilize your skills or if you want to venture out and open your horizons. Volunteering for a limited time during the holiday season is a great way to gain a new experience and possibly network with people you would probably never meet otherwise.”
Ken Bishop, a designer who moved from New York City to Colorado Springs a few years ago, works from home for businesses located in New York, North Carolina and Denver. He decided recently to volunteer in service of soldiers and their families.
“I figured that if I was going to volunteer, I might as well be useful,” he said. “I was looking for a way to give back to people who put themselves in harm’s way protecting my wife and me.”
Time was big factor for Bishop, whose work level is seasonally dependent.
“In my offseason I figure I can volunteer half a day, twice a week, but during my busy season I may only have a couple of hours a week, so I need something that would fit my schedule. Otherwise, I’d like to volunteer on a permanent basis.”
Bautista said ACS would likely put Bishop to work in the organization’s marketing and publications department, where his skills would be most useful.
But, that’s another aspect that potential volunteers should think about before jumping in, especially if they are looking for holiday-season opportunities, exclusively.
“Typically, this time of year, people should be flexible with the type of work they’re willing to perform,” Bautista said. “For example, my kids and I volunteer at the Marian House Soup Kitchen and the managers there typically put me to work washing dishes. And, I’m fine with that because I want my kids to be able to interact with the folks in the dining hall. A lot helping agencies will put volunteers to work where they need the help. It just makes sense.”
Potential volunteers should also be prepared to attend an organization’s volunteer orientation, where they learn various aspects of the volunteer experience specific to that agency. Some may also assist children and require their volunteers to pass a background check.
“It’s a good idea for people to contact helping agencies a few weeks prior to when they want to volunteer so they can perform all of the administrative tasks required,” Bautista said. “Attending a volunteer orientation is also a great way to learn about the mission and philosophy of the organization you’re volunteering for.”
Learning about an organization and taking an honest assessment of yourself are two of the most important steps that potential volunteers should take, according to Day.
“When we first meet people who want to volunteer, they’ll typically say they either don’t know what to do or that they’ll do anything,” she said. “But, when you start talking with them, you find out that’s not true. It’s when we get deeper into that initial conversation, that things start coming to their minds. And, they end up walking out with a better idea of the type of volunteer work they want to do.”
Even people who struggle with inflexible work schedules or can only serve their community in a one-time stint have ample opportunities to do so.
For example, 1st Lt. Alan Martinez, a military policeman with 110th MP Company, and his unit mates organized a toy drive during last year’s holiday season. The MPs collected toys during their unit’s holiday party and delivered them to the Court Appointed Special Advocates office later the same week.
“Our demanding schedule didn’t allow us to make a longer commitment, but we wanted to volunteer or help community members as much as we could,” Martinez said. “Our holiday party theme was ‘giving back to the community.’”
Martinez had a contact at CASA and said their representative communicated with him throughout the entire process.
“The CASA rep even came to our unit to speak with soldiers about volunteer opportunities,” he said. “The partnership and coordination turned out to be relatively easy.”
Whether people have a lot of time or even just a little, most all volunteer help is greatly appreciated.
Anyone searching for volunteer opportunities throughout the Pikes Peak region, whether they’re connected to the military or not, can contact ACS for guidance or helping agency contact information at https://carson.armymwr.com/programs/army-community-service, or at 719-526-4590.