For mother of three Terry Marotta, connecting her volunteering to her early career as an inner-city teacher was essential. Finding organizations whose missions matched her youthful goals felt instinctively right, something she recommends. Marotta works for two nonprofits devoted to diversity: A Better Chance, which identifies talented young people of color for study at top middle and secondary schools; and her town’s Multicultural Network, helping people build inclusive communities.
“As a high school English teacher in my twenties, I had had the chance to live out and uphold similar values to the ones these two boards cherish. In Room 334, we all listened with respect to one another, we learned to celebrate our differences, and before long got to [a point] where we were all really glad we had come to class each day.”
Marotta knew the nonprofits were a fit when she felt the same way she did as a young, ambitious teacher. Her feeling of purpose has been key to her success as a volunteer.
Many people are passionate about causes but unsure if they have the right skills. “Banish all such thinking!” Marotta urges. “Try to see if you can identify a couple of people—even just through social media—who work with the nonprofit. Ask what the joys and obligations are.”
Then, she says, observe how the group acts. Perhaps you can sit in on a meeting. Get a sense of the organization’s tenor. Just visiting the group’s Facebook page may help you see how members interact.
Most of all, Marotta says, consider your legacy when joining a group.
“How do I know that ‘my’ work will live on? It sounds corny but I think I know it because of something that Mother Teresa said: ‘All that is not given away is lost.’ So give it away, your time and your love and your attention, and you will never be sorry, because the people you have given these things to will in time give away their own store of them,” she advises.
Of course, volunteering can be taxing, especially with family pressures. Marotta worked with the Winchester (MA) Chapter of A Better Chance for ten years when she was young, then took two decades off before returning. When she did, Marotta says, “I was a different person with a new ability to laugh, to survive setbacks, to keep things in perspective.” Now, she says, “I have much better boundaries. I know how to practice self-care. What I give, I give with a full heart.” Make sure you have the time and the energy to devote yourself to your chosen cause, so when you give, it’s without resentment or pressure. When this is the case, the gratitude—for both the volunteer and the recipient—is immeasurable.
“I’ve seen this again and again,” says Marotta. “There is almost no greater force for good than the power of careful attention to another person.”
So thanks Kara. Thanks for helping me say what I deeply believe. And thanks to my fellow board members on the Network for helping me stay mindful of the many good reasons I do any kind of volunteer work. I’m a lucky girl.