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November 25, 2014

Giving back: How to find time to be a volunteer

It’s hard enough to juggle work and family, never mind volunteering as well. But this veteran volunteer shows how it can be done.

Sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the week and juggling work and family priorities can seem overwhelming. But it is possible. Rahim Bhatia, a Waterloo, Ont. resident and lifelong volunteer, contributed over 500 hours of his time to World Partnership Walk in 2013 — all in addition to his family commitments and his job as team leader, Health and Dental Claims at Sun Life Financial. For his efforts, his employer named him national Volunteer of the Year.

So, how did he do it, you ask? Here are some tips from this veteran volunteer:

Follow your passion and offer your skills

It’s simple to start volunteering. The best place to begin is by tapping into your passions and interests. “When I came to Canada and learned about the Aga Khan Foundation of Canada’s World Partnership Walk and the projects they had across the world, I was sold on the idea doing anything I could do to assist because I was so passionate about the cause,” says Bhatia.

Since its start 30 years ago, the World Partnership Walk has raised more than $82 million for international development programs and initiatives, making it the largest and most successful event of its kind in Canada. Projects are identified and carried out by local communities, targeting areas of greatest need and providing long-term sustainable solutions, such as revitalizing a rural economy, ensuring clean water and sanitation, strengthening community-based organizations and educating new generations of girls and women.

Bhatia has headed up the logistics of this event for the past seven years, and is involved in managing the year-round planning process. This includes everything from attending bi-weekly meetings with the executive team to procuring supplies to recruiting a team of more than 100 volunteers.

Like Bhatia, when you follow your passions or interests, you can easily find the volunteering niche that’s right for you. Start by asking yourself what you like to do. For example, if you’re an animal lover, check out the opportunities at your local animal shelter.

Another important thing to consider is your skills — and everyone’s skill set is unique. Are you a social media whiz? Or an event planner extraordinaire, like Bhatia? Browse Canada-wide volunteer job boards such as getinvolved.ca, and see what postings are waiting for you.

Be creative about fitting volunteering around work and family

After deciding where to volunteer, the burning question is: “How do I make the time?” Bhatia says that balancing work life, home life and community service can sometimes make him feel like he’s being pulled in three different directions. Fortunately, his family is very understanding and supportive about his volunteer commitments. To maximize his time with his family, he fits in his volunteering tasks early in the morning and after his children are in bed.

Another way to give back while not taking too much time away from your family is to volunteer from the comfort of your own home — by writing emails or responding to social media questions, for example.

If your family commitments are such that volunteering outside of working hours simply isn’t an option, many workplaces also have annual charitable giving campaigns. Through them, you can give back to your community without sacrificing family time by organizing office events or taking part in committees.

Bhatia believes that whatever you choose to dedicate your time to, your efforts will always be appreciated by others. He suggests easing into volunteering slowly and choosing an activity you’re already doing. For example, if your child plays sports, offer to assist with the coaching or organize carpools for tournaments. Volunteering doesn’t have to be a huge time commitment!

Make it a social activity

Another of Bhatia’s tips is to make giving back a family affair. “If your family supports what you’re doing, they’re more likely to believe in the cause and want to help as well,” he says. “Any time there is a fundraiser, I ask my family and friends to help with things like setting up, selling tickets, looking for donors and spreading the word on their social media networks. He suggests picking an activity that the whole family can do together, such as helping at a local food bank or library and making it a regular bonding activity.

What’s more, volunteering can be a great way to meet new people with similar interests, or connect with old friends. Annual Christmas toy drives, for example, are always looking for people to help — and you’ll come away feeling great!

Volunteering not only benefits the community, it benefits you, too. From making new friends to exploring new interests, you’ve got a lot to gain while you’re giving back. “When you dedicate your time to volunteering, you’re indirectly helping yourself as well as other people,” says Bhatia. “Volunteerism teaches you to be patient, kind and helpful, while improving your leadership skills and exposing you to different styles of people. I always leave with a great sense of satisfaction.”

Learn more about how Rahim Bhatia gives back to his community.

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