Volunteering in the USA: what free work can give you - ForumDaily
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Volunteering in the USA: what free work can give you

Фото: Depositphotos

Work without money for thanks. Many in the United States do this out of a desire to help or gain the necessary experience. Volunteering for newcomers to America is a good opportunity to adapt to a new environment, brush up on the language, practice in an area of ​​interest, or simply get busy if you don’t have a work permit in the States. For those who are ready to work for free, the Forum tells you what benefits volunteering can bring.

Two sides of the coin

In America, being a volunteer is useful, and in some cases necessary. In particular, during college, students often need to complete a professional internship, during which they work as volunteers, for free, in their specialty. Volunteering can also be the first career step for a young professional with no work experience who wants to join his dream company, or for a newly arrived migrant who wants to join a professional environment. Having volunteer experience behind you makes it easier to find a job or go to college.

Over more than a century and a half of the existence of the volunteer movement in the United States, free labor has been used in almost all areas - from working with children or the elderly to the film sets of multimillion-dollar Hollywood films. However, sometimes companies openly abuse the altruism of volunteers. Thus, in 2013, interns who worked for free for more than six months for the film company Fox Searchlight Pictures on the set of the film “Black Swan”, which earned more than $300 million, won the court and sued their salary.

IMPORTANT: US Department of Labor clearly defines six criteriawhen internships in commercial companies may not be paid:

  1. The internship is essentially a vocational training;
  2. the experience gained is useful for the intern;
  3. the intern does not replace the employee, but works under his leadership;
  4. the employer does not receive direct benefits from the activities of the intern;
  5. an intern does not necessarily get a job after completing an internship;
  6. the employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to pay for the time spent in the internship.

However, in general, the US population volunteers a lot and with pleasure. According to the latest data, in 2014, every fourth inhabitant of the country was engaged in volunteering in one form or another. And even on the eve of Thanksgiving, even US President Barack Obama regularly becomes a volunteer at the Martha's Table charity organization and distributes food to those in need. At the same time, along with him, all his family’s volunteers - his wife, children and even his mother-in-law.

How to help yourself by helping others

Newly arrived immigrants in volunteering can find a lot of advantages for themselves, if, of course, they are morally ready to work for free.

  1. Volunteering will help you learn English and integrate into society

The best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in the language environment and communicate more. Volunteer will take you with any level of knowledge of the language.

There are many volunteer positions where you don’t even have to talk, but you can listen and delve as much as you like. This could be working in a library, museum, or souvenir shops at museums or amusement parks. For mothers of schoolchildren, volunteering in the classroom is suitable - you can help the teacher, cut and paste educational materials. Nature lovers can help at farms, parks, animal shelters and zoos.

Such volunteer work will also help newcomers to the United States to understand the peculiarities of the mentality and details of the daily life of Americans.

Where to look for positions:

http://www.idealist.org/ — general position base

https://www.usa.gov/volunteer - government base

Positions in zoos, museums, parks or libraries can be found directly on their sites. Volunteer positions in animal shelters can be viewed. here.

Elena Kalugina moved to California from Kyiv with her husband back in 1996. While I didn’t have a work permit, I decided to volunteer - I wanted to psychologically integrate into society. In the pre-Google era, you had to find out about existing positions in libraries and city centers. After a long search, Elena ended up in an art gallery. Here she worked for three years, 2-4 hours a week, communicating with artists and visitors.

Volunteering helped Elena improve her spoken English, develop administrative skills, and even, to some extent, get a loan for a house.

“When we took out a loan for a house, the bank asked for an official document confirming that for the first three years I did not just sit at home, but worked. And the official reference sent from my place of volunteering satisfied the bank completely,” says Elena.

Now, despite the fact that she has the main work, Elena is a permanent volunteer of the creative association “Cedars”. She takes part in organizing and holding creative events and festivals, sings, coordinates work at workshops and master classes.

  1. Volunteering will help you gain the necessary work experience

Immigrants to the United States often have to relearn their or a new profession. Volunteering in this case is not just an opportunity to try different types of activities, but in some cases one of the most important conditions for employment. If at home you were a scientist / economist / lawyer / doctor, then in the USA all knowledge and diplomas will have to be confirmed and supplemented - not only with training, but also with work experience in the relevant field. In addition, in order not to pay big money for college, you must first live in the US for a year, get resident status, and then study will cost 3-4 times cheaper. Just this first year can be spent on gaining experience as a volunteer.

Pros: you will learn the profession from the inside - especially if you take the initiative and take on more responsibilities, get to know professionals who you can ask for advice, learn the specifics of the work. In addition, some companies that have hired you for volunteering / internships may offer you a permanent job after the probationary period.

Where to look for positions:




If there are no suitable positions on general sites, then you can try a specialized search. Just type "volunteering" and your area of ​​interest into the search bar. For example, physics, biology, medicine and so on. You can also enter your location or even view a position at a specific institution.

Elena Kostrygina came to the US from Donetsk 15 years ago and immediately got a volunteer position as a web administrator: she compiled survey forms on the site, learned how to communicate correctly by e-mail and phone, and updated the site. In total, the work took about ten hours a week.

Elena Kostrygina found a volunteer position according to her professional profile. Photo from personal archive.

Elena Kostrygina worked as a volunteer in her profession. Photos from the personal archive.

Elena did the same thing in her homeland, so a year and a half of volunteering became an excellent work experience for her, an opportunity to improve her professional and spoken language and a worthy line on her resume. “For those who want to continue to pursue their professional interests upon arrival in the United States, I would advise them to find volunteering in their field and work in this field for some time,” she says.

  1. Volunteering to help enter and graduate from college

In both schools and colleges, any volunteer activity is encouraged - it helps teenagers develop leadership skills, shows their activity and initiative, and later becomes a good start for building a resume. In addition, volunteering helps teenagers decide what areas they are interested in, what they are strong in, and what makes sense to work on.

Volunteering during your high school years is a big plus when applying to college. Volunteering, or the so-called internship (internship), is a prerequisite for graduating from college. For the interns themselves, this is an opportunity to gain practical experience, which can be safely included in their resume. However, as a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, cited by the American Forbes, interns who have had a free internship get jobs with a lower salary than those who have not had an internship at all. But after a paid internship, graduates find more highly paid positions.

Where to look for positions:



http://www.volunteermatch.org/ (should indicate that positions are required for teenagers)


For interns:



Natalia Volkodav came to the US from Zaporozhye in 2009 with her husband and child. I wanted to improve my English and not sit at home all the time, so I almost immediately got a job as a decorator in a bakery. After six months of work, the volunteers were promised a decorator certificate and the opportunity to get a job on a paid basis. But after a few months, Natalya found a job in a restaurant at the San Jose airport, and the line about volunteering in her resume helped her a lot.

Natalya Volkodav

Volunteering helped Natalya Volkodav improve her English and fill out the required line on her resume. Photo from personal archive.

And in 2014, Natalya entered a California college for a two-year nursing course. Volunteering as a nurse is a mandatory requirement during training. Natalia has already volunteered at the Kaizer Medical Center, as well as at individual events and examinations. This gave her not just a line on her resume, but also irreplaceable experience, with which she has a much greater chance of being in demand in her profession.

“Volunteering is a very important component of education and profession. After all, for an employer, this is like a sign: if a person agrees to do something for free, it means that he is really interested in it,” she believes.

  1. Volunteering will allow you to do interesting things and help others

If you do not have and do not yet have the opportunity to work, but you are full of energy and want to develop, be useful and needed, then volunteering becomes an ideal opportunity to realize yourself. You can choose to work in the field of your professional activity or find one-time events if you don’t have time for full-time volunteering. And for those who cannot sit still and are attracted by the wind of distant travels, volunteer positions abroad are perfect. Volunteers are always needed for schools and training centers around the world. The only “but” is that you will have to pay for flights, insurance and, possibly, housing.

Where to look for positions:




Special sites for volunteers at the age of:

http://www.nationalservice.gov/programs/senior-corps — you can “become” a grandparent to children with special needs, teach children, help adults with limited mobility or other pensioners, work with victims of natural disasters.

http://www.seniorshelpingseniors.com/ — support for pensioners and older people

Volunteering abroad

https://www.helpstay.com/ - working with children, volunteering at a surfer's beach

http://www.wwoof.net/ — volunteering on organic farms

https://movingworlds.org/ — dozens of different positions around the world

http://www.freevolunteering.net/ - diverse positions

http://www.camphill.org/ — work with children and people with special needs

Elena Aravina has been in California for 2,5 years. Almost immediately after her arrival from Saratov, she found a volunteer position at the Fort Ross Festival of Russian Historical Heritage, which takes place annually near San Francisco. According to Elena, she was driven primarily by curiosity and a desire to find herself, but this first experience gave her a lot: communication, language practice, socialization. And volunteering itself after that became a conscious choice - to give part of my free time to a socially useful cause.

Elena is now studying in college, so she cannot volunteer on an ongoing basis because of her school schedule. However, she often finds the group in Silicon Valley Volunteers on Meetup.com interesting one-time volunteer projects. In particular, this is how Elena has already joined the tree planting campaign.

“Volunteering for me, an introvert, is first and foremost a challenge to myself. After all, you almost always have to communicate with strangers. In addition, it turned out to be very nice to do something for free. The main thing is to choose something you like, so that it does not greatly interfere with personal plans, then work will invariably be a pleasure!” - Elena thinks.

Now she is graduating from college and preparing to go to work, but she does not plan to quit her volunteer activities even in the future.

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