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In late 2008, Mimi Schaefer made an ambitious New Years Resolution: she vowed to volunteer for a different nonprofit organization each month in 2009 in order to reconnect with her community and expand her horizons.
Thus began a year of adventure, challenge and accomplishment.
Schaefer, a Denver-area resident, had done quite a bit of volunteering back in high school, but even so, she didn't have any particular organizations in mind when she made her pledge.
When she first visited VolunteerMatch, she was somewhat overwhelmed by all her options. Eventually she decided to swim against the tide. Rather than choose well-known organizations like Goodwill Industries, American Red Cross, and Meals on Wheels, she decided to select lesser known grassroots organizations.
"There was so much more," she recalls. "I was excited about the opportunities."
The site was also helpful when an opportunity was cancelled at the last minute. "VolunteerMatch gave me ideas when my own creativity needed a boost," she explains.
A telecommunications professional and freelance writer by trade, Schaefer documented much of her experience at yourhub.com, the Denver Post's online community. There, you can read how Schaefer spent the next twelve months -- giving blood, stuffing envelopes, stocking shelves at a local food bank, and demonstrating what involved commitment can look like.
Not only do Schaefer's stories have detailed information about what it's like to volunteer for the organizations she chose, they also document her hopes, thoughts, and advice for others looking to get involved in service.
Whether describing the peaceful repetition of stuffing envelopes or describing the sadness of packaging meager baby supplies at the food bank, the articles track Schaefer's "Year of the Volunteer" from its humble beginnings.
Schaefer's volunteer experiences put her in contact with new people, exposed her to facets of life she'd been sheltered from, and forced her to face a few fears along the way. For example, she was able to put aside her initial nervousness about visiting a homeless shelter. She also fought through the pinprick of giving blood -- figuring it was a small price to pay for the satisfaction of helping someone in need.
"Plus," Schaefer adds, "I'd promised myself two scoops of Ben and Jerry's Coconut 7-Layer ice cream for giving blood and if I backed out, I'd be out of luck."
Between the blood (literally!) and sweat, were also a few of what Schaefer calls tears of gratitude.
"I love those unexpected moments when my emotions just sweep me up and remind me that what I'm doing matters and is so appreciated by someone else," Schaefer says. "Sometimes I think I'm so calm and collected and so sure of myself and then these moments happen that make me aware that this moment is precious. I realize that I'm the same as the person I'm helping -- I'm just as vulnerable and fragile as everyone else."
With 2009 coming to a close, Schaefer now knows that her volunteer work is far from over. With huge needs in her local area and an easy way to find opportunities to get involved, she says that what started as a bold resolution has become a way of life.
But she's not complaining one bit: "Maybe volunteering is the key to happiness," she says. "I want to keep doing this and, yes, I will do it again and again."