Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Volunteers Give Back While Looking for Work

By Katie Thompson
Gordon College News Service
March 27, 2012 

(This story appeared March 28, 2012, in the Boston Globe, Beverly site, and April 7, 2012, in the print and online editions of The Salem News.)

After 23 years working on the switchboard and later in access services at Beverly hospital, Linda Riley lost her job in 2010. During the first five months of unemployment, she struggled to find full time work and eventually took a part time shift at Stop and Shop in the evenings.

“It’s one thing when you have a job and are looking for another job,” she said. “It’s another thing when you don’t have one and you’re looking for something before unemployment runs out.”

But Riley, 59, of Beverly wanted to stay productive while looking for work, so she started to volunteer. Since then she has been volunteering at the Beverly Council on Aging where she serves as a receptionist and as a teacher in the computer lab.

“I really love helping elderly people,” she said. “They so appreciate the company and the help.”

Riley is one of many in the area who are looking for ways to contribute while still searching for work.
The benefits of volunteering are two fold, said Mark Whitmore, executive director of the North Shore Career Center. The Career Center—which has offices in Salem, Gloucester and Lynn—works with both job seekers and businesses to help both sides better understand what is needed and available in the job market. Whitmore said the Center constantly emphasizes the value of volunteering at job seeking events.

“As it gets further from the last job the individual had, they become somewhat unattractive to businesses,” he said. “Volunteering is a great way to fill that gap, to learn some additional skills, and to be able to contribute as an active member of that workforce.”

Whitmore said that besides helping to keep jobseekers marketable to potential employers, volunteering also has an intangible value.

“We all want to feel productive and there’s nothing that can mess with someone more than not feeling that,” he said. “Volunteering gives you a reason to get up in the morning, somewhere to go, and makes you feel productive.”

Paul Woods, 46, of Chelsea understands this as well. For 17 years he had a secure job at Garber Travel in Chestnut Hill. He began as a human resource manager, but worked his way up to become the company’s chief operating officer. When the 2008 recession hit, Woods wasn’t spared. Garber Travel was sold and his position was eliminated in 2009. That period between 2008-2009, according to the North Shore Workforce Investment Board, led to the North Shore’s private sector employment decline of 4.3 percent, the toughest in the decade.

Despite a master’s degree in organizational development from Cambridge College and a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Bentley University, Woods knew he wouldn’t get a new job right away. When a close friend passed away from cancer, he began looking into volunteering, and he’s been hooked ever since.

“Volunteering has kept me sane,” he said. “[It] gives you a purpose.”

Since 2010, Woods has filled his days with volunteering.  He spends 20 hours a week at Catholic Charities in Lynn and one or two days a week Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. As the volunteer coordinator at Catholic Charities, Woods recruits other volunteers to meet the organization’s needs.

At Dana Farber, Woods volunteers in the resource center where he meets with patients and families to walk them through information, resources and programs that the Institute offers. He has found his background in HR has helped him at both volunteering positions and has brought an HR approach to the volunteer recruitment process at Catholic Charities as well as Dana Farber.

“It taught me to be very patient,” he said. “If a cancer patient wants to talk, stay for a long time, I will do that.”

In order to make ends meet, Woods also done several temporary jobs and occasional human resources (HR) consulting work, collecting unemployment insurance in between. Though he said he has had to make several lifestyle changes like eating out less and avoiding major purchases since losing his job, Woods said the benefits of volunteering are great. So much so that even as continues looking for contract consulting positions or full time work, he’ll still volunteer.

“[Volunteering helps me to] remember how to set the alarm clock and get out,” he said. “I feel like I’m appreciated.”

Riley, too, says she’ll continue to volunteer at the Council on Aging even while applying for full and part time jobs.“[Working with seniors] builds my confidence and makes me feel good about myself,” she said. “They really need someone.”


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