Advice for Your Discernment

The decision to volunteer full-time is an important, life-changing choice. Your volunteer placement may take you to completely new surroundings for anywhere from a few weeks to three years. You will impact others, and certainly be impacted yourself. So, once you’ve discovered the basics about what volunteer opportunities are available to you, we next would encourage you to:

  • Make Time to Reflect – Set aside plenty of time for personal reflection to gain a better understanding of your interests, motivation, and availability to volunteer. Reading, journaling, and praying are excellent ways to be sure your decision comes from within. You may want to reflect using some of the questions provided in the next section.
  • Read Volunteer Stories – Curious about life in community, or what volunteer placements are actually like? You can find a wide range of volunteer reflections at our blog or by visiting our Choose Service page.
  • Find Your Mentor – Many volunteers have received service inspiration and advice from a trusted mentor. Speaking with a teacher, minister, counselor, or another grounded individual may help you find clarity as you discern programs and narrow your options.
  • Speak with Family – Your parents, sibling, and other loved ones may provide valuable emotional support as you prepare for the challenges of service – living somewhere new, working alongside marginalized peoples, and entering into a much simpler lifestyle. They may also have important questions about why you want to serve and where you want to go.
  • Contact CVN – We are here to support you in your service journey. As former volunteers and/or volunteer program staff members, we are happy to speak with you and help answer questions at any point in your decision-making process. Don’t hesitate to give us a call – we can be reached at 301-270-0900.

Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Volunteer Program - Once you’ve researched programs and spoken with others about your desire, the next step is asking specific questions to build confidence and clarify your intentions. The first set of questions below will help you reflect on your motivations and expectations. The second set is questions you should ask prospective programs. There are no right or wrong answers here – only an opportunity for you to contemplate and express your call to service.

Ask Yourself…

Why do I want to volunteer? Volunteers serve for many different reasons. Are you idealistic? Do you want to deepen your relationship with God? Are you committed to social justice? Do you anticipate personal growth? Do you want to change your life?

What are my expectations? What do you want to experience during your time as a volunteer? What do you hope to gain? What do you expect from your program and specific placement?

What do I have to offer? What gifts can you share with others? What are your strengths/weaknesses? What professional skills do you bring?

How do I handle changes? A volunteer year involves a lot of change. Not only will you be living in a new place with new people, but you won’t be earning a salary. How do you handle change? Have you ever been far from your family and support system? How will you adjust to living simply?

How do I relate with others? Many volunteers find living in community to be the most difficult part of their volunteer year. How do you interact with others? How do you deal with problems and disagreements? Do you have a sense of humor?

What gives me satisfaction? At the end of the day, what makes you feel good? What do you find comfort in? What do you like to do with others? How do you spend your time when you’re alone?

Ask Programs…

What makes your program unique? What are your core beliefs or tenets? What is the spirituality of charism of your sponsoring community?

What type of placement does your program offer? What work will I be doing? Do I need to have previous experience? Will you train me to do things I don’t know how to do? How long is your program? Where will I be serving?

What type of living situation do you have? Programs offer a variety of different living situations. Will I be living with others like me? Where will I be living? How much stipend will I receive? Can I bring a car?

What kind of support do you provide your volunteers? Will I be trained? What do if I have a problem at my placement? Will there be retreats? How often will I interact with other volunteers? How do you ensure the safety of your volunteers?

How does the application process work? How long does the process take? Do I need to be interviewed? What paperwork will I need to complete? What kind of background checks are required?

What are your program’s benefits? Will my student loans be deferred? Will I receive any training or certification? Are AmeriCorps Awards available? Is health insurance provided?

May I speak with former volunteers? Volunteers who have gone before you are your best resource in learning about a program. Be sure to ask the program to put you in touch with these volunteers who can share with you their experiences.

What happens when the program is over? How many people have gone through your program? What types of work have former volunteers gone on to do? How do you keep in touch with former volunteers? Do you offer any support for the transition?