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Tips For Would-Be Volunteers

Editor's Note: Kim Kilpatrick is a member of AEBC's Ottawa-Gatineau Chapter in Ontario, and is Coordinator of the Supported Volunteer Program for People with Physical and Sensory Disabilities at Volunteer Ottawa.

I have been totally blind since birth and have been a volunteer since my early teens, and I love it! I have been a friendly visitor to seniors, helped kids with disabilities, served on boards and committees, coordinated volunteers, organized festivals, worked with people in palliative care, and most recently helped with an accessibility audit at our local folk festival.

Besides being a long-time and committed volunteer, my current paid job is with Volunteer Ottawa, where I help people with disabilities find volunteer work. Volunteering allows you to be out in, and to give back to, your community. It helps you to learn new skills or practice existing ones, meet new people, and sometimes to even gain employment. In short, it's fun and rewarding! Below are a few tips to get you started as a volunteer.

First, don't be afraid to try it. When considering where and how you might like to volunteer, consider the following: What do you love to do? What are your interests, strengths and talents? Do you love working with people, with animals, or with information? Do you like working behind the scenes or on the frontlines? How many hours per week would you like to spend volunteering?

Some people like to volunteer from their homes, which is called virtual volunteering, and often involves writing, web design, craft making, etc. Others love to be out in the community. Some people like to volunteer in a quiet, relaxed environment, while others thrive in a fast-paced atmosphere.

To determine where you might want to volunteer, try the following: Contact a local volunteer centre if you have one in your area; ask family members, friends and co-workers where they like to volunteer; check out the Charity Village website (www.charityvillage.ca) for opportunities; and if a specific organization or cause interests you, call and ask if they need volunteers.

When planning for volunteer work, think about how and when you will disclose your disability. Be prepared to discuss any accommodations you might need.

Here are a few volunteer positions held by people who are blind or partially sighted, whom I know or have assisted in finding volunteer work: Office receptionist; working at music and other arts festivals; booth and display helper; working on the federal election campaigns; teaching English to people who are new to Canada; helping at an animal sanctuary; playing music in a nursing home; building houses for Habitat for Humanity; and many others.

I encourage everyone to get out there and volunteer. You'll be glad you did!

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