A Handful of Hope: 5 “Must Knows” for Volunteering

Written by guest blogger Sara Turnley, Auburn graduate, Project Sanctuary volunteer, and daughter of a military veteran. For more of Sara’s work, click HERE for her blog. 

Itching to get involved with an organization that benefits our nation’s heroes and their families? Project Sanctuary is your answer. Even if volunteering is not your go to, there is something about this nonprofit that keeps you coming back for more. You do not want to miss out on the difference this organization is making for our military families.

I first volunteered at Retreat #72 at Winding River Ranch in Grand Lake, CO, only knowing about Project Sanctuary based on reading their website. Creating ideas of what to expect, I planned to dive all in the moment I arrived. I was excited to meet new people, expand my knowledge about Project Sanctuary, assist with any activity and make a difference for the families in any way I could. Had I not been ready to put my all in, I personally would not have left volunteering with the incredible impression I did. It left me hungry for more – more enthusiasm to share the hope this organization provides and of course more involvement with Project Sanctuary. Since this retreat, I have volunteered at two more retreats as well as volunteered on the O.P.S. Gala Committee. I urge you to take the leap and volunteer. Before you do, though, there are five “must knows” to keep in mind, which I learned during my first retreat.

1. What you give is what you get

The expression, “the more you put into a situation directly correlates with the more you get out of that situation” holds true in all circumstances while volunteering with Project Sanctuary. From getting to know the families to assisting with a variety of activities, volunteering is worth experiencing. It’s the minor activities you least expect that bring the most fulfillment, too. Just observing families grow together throughout the week was the number one take away from my experience – it’s something special you simply cannot describe.

2. Healing for all

While retreats are focused on reconnecting families and helping them transition from battle ready to family ready, volunteers can heal during retreats, too. It cleanses the mind and soul as you take a step back from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life. Enjoy the great outdoors, enjoy the relaxation of it all, and most importantly, enjoy knowing that you are making a difference in the lives of others. Seeing volunteers relaxed and soaking up all the retreats offer often inspires families to feel more comfortable and inclined to do the same.

3. Step on up

Throughout the week, volunteers are assigned different activities and asked to step up to the plate even when not assigned. If there is an important piece of advice I can give, it is do not be intimidated or upset by your schedule. You truly do not know what to expect until you are mid activity. I can honestly say, some of my biggest laughs occurred while working in the kitchen with other volunteers whom I now consider great friends. We were not even assigned dish duty, but we saw the need for that and filled the void. We figured even if we were not communicating with families, we were still doing something that needed to be done, something that assisted families in the simplest way and something that allowed families to easily prepare for their next family bonding activity.

4. Be free

Yes, free time is real! Volunteer schedules are laid out to give breaks to relax and recharge. It is highly encouraged for volunteers take these breaks seriously. With early wake ups and back-to-back activities, taking time for yourself will keep you healthy and energized throughout the week. This was probably the toughest concept for me to grasp while volunteering. I am one who loves to volunteer, excels with a full schedule and enjoys to constantly move, so I figured I did not need to follow this advice closely. I quickly learned, though, this was not the case. I did not want to miss out on any experiences, but I learned by taking my free time – even 15 minutes of sitting outside by the river – I could give twice as much for the next activity I was assigned. This moment to myself, this moment of realization, is something I grew to love about volunteering with Project Sanctuary.

5. Positivity is key

Positive attitude. Open mind. Encourage. Confident. Outgoing. Support. Comfort. Energetic. Empathy. Motivate. Inspire. Respect. Just to name a few… These are positive characteristics and emotions volunteers should bring to the table as well as expect to feel throughout the retreat. Positivity is a two-way road. Always have a positive mindset because families can feed off that positivity and will feel more comfortable to return that emotion. Some families who attend retreats are nervous and anxious at first, but with positive volunteers and a reinforcing sense of comfort, families learn to open up and relax, allowing them to gain that much more out of a retreat. Even the simplest form of positivity can make a difference.

Best of luck with your next volunteer adventure!





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