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More Than Pro Bono: Volunteering Outside of Law

Katie Shank

More Than Pro Bono: Volunteering Outside of Law
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Many attorneys volunteer by using their skills and knowledge to help others with pro bono work. However, I want to challenge you to look outside of the field of law for your next volunteer opportunity. We are often so involved in our own bar association activities that we aren’t aware of the vast number of other opportunities to give back to our communities. We need to dedicate time in our schedules to nonlegal activities, and volunteering provides an oft-needed break from the legal world and benefits our mental and physical health.

Benefits of Volunteering

Research suggests that people who volunteer experience a boost in their mental health, which is especially good news as over a third of Americans are experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression, and we know that the legal profession has higher rates of mental health difficulties compared with the general population. In a study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, researchers examined data from nearly 70,000 research participants who completed surveys about their volunteering habits and mental health over 18 years. Contrasted against people who didn’t volunteer, people who had volunteered in the past year reported being more satisfied with their lives and rated their overall health as better. Further, the researchers found that people who volunteered more frequently experienced greater benefits: those who volunteered at least monthly reported better mental health than participants who volunteered more infrequently or not at all.

Many nonprofit organizations are offering opportunities to volunteer remotely from home during the pandemic. While research hasn’t directly compared this to traditional in-person volunteering, it is likely that remote volunteer opportunities would benefit our well-being.

Excellent Options for Your Next Volunteer Opportunity

Local Food Banks 

Many people rely on food banks due to unemployment during the pandemic. You can offer to sort donations, pick up donations and bring them to the food bank itself, or even deliver items to high-risk individuals or those who can’t come to the bank in person.

Animal Shelters

Like food banks, many animal shelters have seen increased needs since the start of COVID-19. Some are seeing more animals being surrendered and could use more volunteers to walk dogs, interact with cats, or help with administrative tasks.

Donate Blood

One unfortunate side effect of the pandemic is a shortage of blood donors, as most people who regularly donate have stayed home. One session of blood donation can save up to three lives. If you’re able, this is a great way to help.

Girls on the Run

This organization has many chapters across the country. For girls in grades three through eight, it provides physical activity and dynamic discussions to build social, emotional, and physical skills in every girl while encouraging healthy habits for life. You can volunteer to help coach a team of girls for their first 5K or help with race-day needs.

Ronald McDonald House Charities 

This organization provides support and often housing for families of children with serious medical needs close to the hospital. With chapters across the country, this organization is often in need of volunteers to help with providing meals and essentials for the families and fundraising events.

Planned Parenthood

This organization provides low-cost or free sexual health services. Virtual volunteers are needed to assist with text banking, phone banking, and connecting on social media to help people get accurate information about vaccines.

If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately and looking for something to take your mind off work, volunteering can be a way to help bring you a sense of control in a stressful situation—a fantastic side effect of the important work volunteers do in every community.