While for many college students, a semester abroad is a nonstop vacation in a distant land, for Genna Duplisea it was a chance to get involved. While studying at the University of Edinburgh, Genna volunteered with the school's Oxfam program and discovered how rewarding -- and fun -- service can be.
"That semester was the first time I connected the possibility of working for a nonprofit with my English degree," tells Genna. "Working with Oxfam showed me the great things nonprofits can accomplish."
So when graduation rolled around and the search for a job was proving less than fruitful, Genna looked to volunteering to occupy her time."I decided to spend that time I wasn't using writing cover letters to volunteer," she says.
But living in a small town can have its disadvantages. For one thing, opportunities to volunteer can be slim pickings. Hoping to save money on gas and reach out to community much different from hers, Genna signed up as a virtual volunteer for Community Housing Network -- an organization based 700 miles away from her home in Maine.
With offices in the greater Detroit area, Community Housing Network provides learning resources, leasing assistance programs, and shelter services to the homeless, people living with a disability or low income, and anyone facing a housing crisis. Through these services, the organization has become a recognized leader in providing affordable housing options to people in need.
As a virtual volunteer, Genna lends her expertise of web 2.0 and social media to Community Housing Network, logging into Facebook, Twitter and YouTube throughout the week to update fans and followers on the organization's activities.
"Rather than volunteering for blocks of time on a schedule, my work for CHN is integrated into my daily life," says Genna.
Through these periodic updates, Genna helps CHN tell its story to thousands of people each day and gain new support for the important services it offers -- something the organization could never have done previously without a big marketing budget and a creative team.
"Spreading [CHN's] mission and goals through social media and connecting with people can translate to more volunteers and donations," says Genna."And, it could make all the difference in helping someone find a place to live."
And though the mission of CHN is one that is important to Genna, she admits that what motivates her to volunteer is the simple feeling of doing something for someone else.
"So much of education and employment are centered around the individual," she says."I feel satisfied at the end of the day if I think I might have done something to help someone else."
It helps to have the support and appreciation of the organization to make volunteering worthwhile.
"C.J. and Anne have made me feel so welcome even though we've never met in person," says Genna."They've taken an interest in me as a person, and I think those personal connections are what make a difference, no matter what kind of work is being done."