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This page is devoted to the management of volunteer programs run by state agencies, including information for parks, natural resources and social and health programs.

~ October 2005 ~ Topic

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Volunteering on the Road to a Career

Having worked in state government in Volunteer Management for over 20 years, I have seen that many people who are interested in volunteering are also interested in gaining employment with the state. Typically, state government is seen as being a very stable workforce with good benefits. So, people often will want to do an internship or volunteer in a state agency in order to get their "foot in the door."

In my experience, volunteering has been a positive way to become employed with the State of Washington (I can't speak for how it may work in other states). The volunteer or intern who will get hired for the position will be the one who is reliable, dependable, efficient, takes on tasks willingly and is eager to learn. If they show this kind of work ethic as a volunteer/intern, they are more likely to get hired because they have proven that they are what would be considered a reliable worker.

I always stress with volunteers that the amount of time they are able to give to the agency is not nearly as important as their reliability and willingness to take on any task they are asked to do. Some don't listen and end up trying to volunteer 30+ hours per week. They may still come in 12 to 15 hours per week and may come in more often than many other volunteers. However, the volunteer who is there every week for 8 hours on the day(s) that were agreed upon is more likely to be hired over the volunteer who says they will be there 20 hours per week, but consistently only makes it 12 hours per week.

Of course, there are many other factors that are involved, but being a valuable, responsible and dependable volunteer for an agency will certainly give a person an advantage. I'll provide a couple of examples:

  • I had one intern who worked with our office (the public assistance office) for two years. In the last year, he provided assistance to social workers who worked with adults with short or long-term disabilities who were receiving public assistance through a state-funded program. If their disability was expected to last for over one year, the social worker would assist them in applying for SSI (a federal program). This intern worked with the social worker, sometimes assisting the client through the SSI approval process (can be long and involved). Right after he completed his bachelor degree program, he was hired in the section where they do the disability determination for SSI (not the direct area where he worked, but one where he had some contact). Typically, they look for someone with experience and who has worked for the state for a while; it was unusual for them to hire someone "new." This intern was not only very reliable, but he also took the initiative to do things when he saw something that needed to be done. In his first year, he had put together a manual to assist the social workers in doing the orientation for public assistance clients going through the WorkFirst program (for able-bodied adults with families who needed to be looking for work while receiving public assistance).
  • Another example is a client who had worked with the disabled adults also. He was very reliable, quick to learn, very organized and an excellent interviewer of the clients. He was able to get them to tell him things about how their disability affected them that most people could not get the client to talk about. He knew what questions to ask, when to ask them and how to ask. Right after he completed his bachelor degree program, he was hired in another office as a Social Worker. Again, most social workers are hired after they have some experience, but he was hired in an in-training position. Within a couple of years, he had received a major recognition award for his work.

There are just two examples of volunteers/interns who did exceptionally well. I also had many persons who came in and assisted with various clerical tasks and then were hired in the clerical unit. They came in either wanting to volunteer or doing a work experience as they typically had no current work experience. Most of them (at least those who have stayed with the state) have been exceptional workers. Some have chosen to move on to other more challenging jobs while some have chosen to stay in the clerical area because that is what they enjoy doing. I have found that bringing on a volunteer who wants to gain work experience so that they can become employed and then does become employed, is one of the most rewarding parts of my job as a Volunteer Program Manager.

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Terry Schroeder is a social worker at the Division of Children & Family Services in Bremerton, WA. She has worked for the department for 28 years, the last 20 working with volunteers in some capacity. She is also an avid volunteer, currently serving on three local non-profit boards and one advisory board. She can be contacted by calling: 360-475-3571 or emailing her at: thes300@dshs.wa.gov.

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