Volunteering is one of the most effective ways to gain meaningful, hands-on experience in the social work field. It gives prospective M.S.W. students a chance to prepare for real-world work in the field and current social workers a chance to broaden or reinforce their experience. This post will help you think about which types of volunteer opportunities will work best for you and how to access them.
Here are six of the most common types of social workers and some suggestions of volunteer organizations and opportunities in each field.
CASA for Children: Every day, almost 2,000 children become victims of abuse or neglect. Volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) receive training on how to advocate, in courtrooms and communities, on behalf of the abused and neglected children. Volunteering for CASA will give you experience working with children, families, the legal system, and the foster care network.
Big Brothers, Big Sisters: BBBS matches you with a child or youth between the ages of 6 and 18 and your job is to help them reach their potential by spending time with and inspiring them. Volunteering for BBBS will give you direct one-on-one experience with at-risk youth — valuable experience for those looking to work with children, families, or schools.
RAINN: The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network operates in thousands of locations nationwide, including college campuses, affiliate centers, and call hotlines. Volunteers participate in a range of activities, including individual counseling, criminal justice system advocacy, community education, casework and hospital accompaniment, among others.
Hospice: Volunteering at a hospice allows you to interact with and directly assist patients and their families while they receive medical care and counseling. This is particularly valuable experience for those interested in working with the elderly or in intensive care units.
The National Health Service Corps: Primary care mental and behavioral health providers can pay off student loans in exchange for serving in communities with limited access to health care.
Many towns and cities also have their own substance abuse centers and support groups. Check Volunteer Match or similar websites for a center near you.
National Military Family Association: Volunteers work closely with their local communities to support military families and advocate on their behalf. Military social workers work closely with families while their loved ones are deployed, so this is a great opportunity to get in touch with the issues and situations you will face in your career.
Department of Veterans Affairs: One of the best ways to get acquainted with the people and issues you will face as a military social worker is to work directly with veterans. The VA has various volunteer opportunities in community centers and medical facilities around the country.
YMCA: The YMCA is a classic place to get involved with the community and has facilities nationwide. This is a particularly good option for those hoping to work on influencing healthier living, youth development, or assessing community needs.
There are many applications for those interested in this field of social work, including working for school or hospital administrations, researching for a university or participating in politics. A good first step is to contact your local hospitals, schools and politicians to see if they have volunteer opportunities. You can also check websites like Volunteer Match to see if there are opportunities near you.
For those interested in applying their skills abroad, the National Association of Social Workers has an international resources and volunteer opportunities of potential organizations and websites. The United Nations Volunteer Program has a particular need for those with experience in clinical psychology, counseling and public health. The Peace Corps always needs volunteers with health and youth development backgrounds and has programs in 65 countries around the world.
Volunteering is a great way for students to try one or several fields of social work, before committing to a full-time position, and for current social workers to gain extra experience and perspective. Volunteer work on a resume for jobs or M.S.W. programs demonstrates not only the practical experience acquired, but also a commitment to social work as a career. Look into a volunteer opportunity in your community that interests you today and reinforce your passion for social work.