Bank of America employees volunteer in the San Antonio Food Bank kitchen at Haven for Hope, preparing and serving a meal for residents. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Cantu.
Bank of America employees volunteer in the San Antonio Food Bank kitchen at Haven for Hope, preparing and serving a meal for residents. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Cantu.

As both a coordinator of volunteer efforts and a volunteer for organizations like The Children’s Shelter and Habitat for Humanity of San Antonio, I’ve seen firsthand the impact that volunteerism has on San Antonio. In a busy world, volunteers create connections, change lives and help build thriving communities.

Though National Volunteer Month is coming to a close, there’s still time to recognize the commitment and time invested by volunteers – and even make the leap on your part to volunteer in our fabulous city.

It’s easy to recognize the external impact that volunteerism has on people and communities, but there are many internal benefits as well. Research shows that volunteerism can boost confidence and social skills leading to stronger relationships and a greater sense of fulfillment. Perhaps that is why more than 62 million people volunteered at least once between September 2014 and September 2015.

An assembly line of volunteers separate the white meat from the dark meat on large prep tables. Photo by Scott Ball.
An assembly line of Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner volunteers separate the white meat from the dark meat on large prep tables. Photo by Scott Ball. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

My first exposure to the power of volunteerism occurred after Hurricane Katrina devastated the coast of Louisiana. Along with hundreds of volunteers, we rebuilt homes in the ninth ward of New Orleans, but more importantly, we saw a community come together and support one another. Since then, I have found that volunteering my time, whether with friends, coworkers or even strangers, is a rewarding way to give back and help me feel connected to the community and various causes.

In fact, one study published by the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that people who volunteer are happier with their work-life balance. This is why many companies encourage volunteerism among employees and implement programs and policies that support the passion and commitment of employee volunteers. For example, my company, Bank of America, believes the foundation to a thriving community is helping people live better financial lives; volunteering is one of the ways we demonstrate this.

April is Bank of America’s Global Service Month for employees. We’ve been participating by continuing to contribute to our 2016 collective goal of logging 7,000 volunteer hours in San Antonio. Last year, more than 100 San Antonio Bank of America employees achieved 7,200 hours as part of 2 million volunteer hours given across the company.

Volunteer Nicole Garbarino directly engaged the students during her first summer with VentureLab. Courtesy photo.
Volunteer Nicole Garbarino directly engaged the students during her first summer with VentureLab. Courtesy photo.

So if you’re looking to spring into volunteerism, now is a terrific time to start. There are several different ways for you to get involved, whether you’re looking for a one-time activity, a recurring commitment or an initiative that you can take part in as your schedule allows.

Plan a volunteering event with your family, friends or co-workers. Determine what types of nonprofits you’d like to volunteer with and reach out to them to see if there are any activities that your group can be involved in. There are many websites like VolunteerMatch.com that can help you find the right volunteer opportunity. Also, did you know you can volunteer for the City of San Antonio? Animal lovers, bookworms, gardeners, history buffs and all residents are invited to help enhance our community and continue to make it a great place to live.

Utilize your skills. Don’t forget that many nonprofits are always looking for valuable volunteers who have personal talents or professional skills. For example, the San Antonio Food Bank requires volunteers to assist with the preparation and serving of breakfast, lunch and dinner meals for residents of Haven for Hope, and Habitat for Humanity replies on people who are handy with tools to help with home builds for our neighbors in need. Junior Achievement is an organization that helps students between elementary school and high school see the connection between what they learn in school and the working world, and volunteers of all professions play a key role in delivering the curriculum through hands-on lesson plans. And remember, board service with a nonprofit is another meaningful way to share your expertise, from financial skills to communications, in order to address needs in the community.

Learn more about your workplace policies and opportunities. Ask your company if it is planning any volunteer activities in the upcoming months and if not, offer to coordinate one. Remind your company of all the great benefits of volunteering and ask about any special programs that it may have for employees who volunteer. Generate some friendly competition by setting individual and collective goals, and ask a colleague to help track them if there’s not a formal process in place.

In addition, if your company is a specialized industry, find out if it could provide its services pro bono to a nonprofit. For example, Bank of America volunteers provide financial coaching and mentoring in schools through Junior Achievement and offer assistance to other nonprofits to help teach better money habits that lead to long-term success.

Volunteering is a fun and rewarding experience, and each time we give our time to a cause, we are reminded us of how fortunate we are to have a role in helping our community thrive. I hope you’ll join me in recognizing those who volunteer and motivating others to join the effort.

Father and son volunteers look on as a prayer is said. Photo by Scott Ball.
Father and son volunteers look on as a prayer is said. Photo by Scott Ball.
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Top image: Bank of America employees volunteer in the San Antonio Food Bank kitchen at Haven for Hope, preparing and serving a meal for residents. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Cantu.

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Jennifer Cantu

Jennifer Cantu is a San Antonio market manager and senior vice president of Enterprise Business and Community Engagement for Bank of America.