Volunteering for the adventurous millennial

Rafael as the duck mascot at Neighbors’ annual fundraiser event—The Great Neighbors’ Duck Races

What possesses someone to volunteer? People have different motivations as we know. “It makes me feel good to help others,” is the common response. Nowadays we hear: “I need to keep busy in my retirement or while I’m looking for a job”. Still others seek ways to expand their professional and social networks through volunteering. All are valid.

And then there are volunteers like Rafael Alvarez, an avid volunteer for Neighbors, Inc. Rafael is a favorite of ours because he is an all-round nice guy. He is passionate about helping those less fortunate. Also, he is more than willing to help us out in a crunch. Rafael is a millennial generation volunteer, and what makes him unique is that he craves the adventure and the challenges that come with serving his community; a category of volunteers I fondly refer to as “adventurous millennials”. Let me explain…

Rafael’s range of interests allows him to take part in many opportunities here at Neighbors. One day he might be in the Clothes Closet thrift store helping the older volunteers haul bags of clothing donations to storage. The next day he might be packing bags with oatmeal and granola bars into summer survival packs for kids whose parents work during the day. Rafael has come with me to give presentations to corporate partners sharing his story and inspiring others to serve. He has played soccer with the neighborhood kids during our summer program and has quickly become a mentor to them.  Also, he has marched in parades, carried holiday gifts to families’ cars, and translated important information to our Spanish speaking guests.And most importantly, and probably my favorite of Rafael’s volunteer activities(and Rafael’s favorite):he dressed up as Pancho the Duck, our giant yellow duck mascot at Neighbors’ annual fundraiser event—The Great Neighbors’ Duck Races. He received a lot of smiles from a lot of people dressed as “The Duck”.

You see, for Rafael, he wants to make people smile. And in the line of work that Neighbors is in—to provide for people’s basic needs—sometimes cheering someone up can be the ultimate challenge. It is the adventurous millennial volunteer,such as Rafael, who commits to seeing that smile and raising someone’s spirits.

Rafael stocking donations of food in the Food Shelf

Gone are the days when volunteering was considered a lifelong activity. Volunteers, traditionally from the older generations, have committed ongoing regular volunteer service to Neighbors for decades. As an example, we have a volunteer starting her 40th year of service with Neighbors for which we are extremely grateful. But these days she is a rare volunteer to commit to this kind of service.While people nowadays are seeking instant gratification and one time volunteer opportunities, the adventurous millennial volunteer finds ways to continue to volunteer and come back time and time again to help out our organization. For a generation absorbed in starting careers, families, and generally moving up in society, it is these volunteers that give selflessly just to make that direct connection with someone less fortunate. Some may not understand why they keep coming back, but they are just trying to make a difference despite the uphill battles of community work.

Rafael’s guide to lifelong volunteering

Since Rafael has started volunteering with Neighbors close to 2 years ago, I have learned a lot about working with the volunteers in the adventurous millennial category. What I call “Rafael’s guide to lifelong volunteering” are simple steps we as volunteer managers can have in place to ensure that these dedicated and passionate millennial volunteers continue to serve our organization into the future.

  • Offer variety: Don’t let me get bored with just one activity. I want to experience all that is “Neighbors, Inc.”.
  • Short term projects: Keep projects short and simple with clear expectations. I want to know I’ve accomplished something.
  • A little recognition goes a long way: A simple thank you, an occasional letter of gratitude… maybe a framed certificate of appreciation will tell me that my time and effort is valuable.
  • Let me see them smile: This is my mission in life—all I want is to see the direct impact I make on the people I am serving. Provide me with this opportunity… even if it means donning a giant yellow duck head.

Keep smiling everyone, and have a great fall!

–          David Miller, Director of Volunteer Programs, Neighbors, Inc.


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