Lessons from Volunteering: Where to Volunteer on the Seacoast


There is no lack of need in our world, in our communities. When we see a need we have a choice to do something about it. Volunteering is one way I’ve found to help fill the need, and to make a difference, however big or small.

Here’s what I’ve learned from volunteering, how it benefits our communities and ourselves.

Four volunteers high-fiving, outside, a man, a girl, and two women.

If not you, then who…

It was about 5:00p.m. and I was alone in the corner of the school kitchen, elbow deep in lettuce. I was making a salad to feed 200 to 300 for our annual school PTO spaghetti dinner fundraiser.

I looked at the remaining 20 plus heads of lettuce I still had to shred and stopped for a quick rest. And to question what exactly I had signed up to do!

I heard conversations and pots and pans clattering in other parts of the kitchen. Our small team of volunteers plus the school cafeteria staff working overtime were all pulling together to get the dinners ready. If I wasn’t going to finish making the salad, then who would?

I’ve learned that if you’re going to volunteer, embrace the challenge!

Make that giant salad, volunteer where you know no one, take the busy shift. Dive right in! Help fill the many needs, even if it is out of your comfort zone. Each of us can make a difference, and it’s always satisfying to feel that you have contributed.

You’ll meet some great people

When my son was young I volunteered for a myriad of committees, in-class assignments, field trips, sports, community organizations, you name it.

At the first meeting for these volunteer assignments, I’d often see many of the same people I’d worked with before. Like a well-oiled machine we’d know where we fit best on the team. We’d get to know each other first as fellow moms and dads and eventually, as friends.

Together, you’ll work towards a common goal and with a shared calling to give back.

If we ever move to a new area the first two things I’ll do is to join a running club and then find a volunteer role! I’ve met almost all of my adult friends from just these two groups.

You’ll learn new skills and have new experiences

As much as volunteering benefits our communities, I’ve found great personal growth and experiences as well.

With school classes I walked the Freedom Trail in Boston and the entire length of New Hampshire Seacoast beaches. Hiking with my son’s third grade class sparked my passion for hiking which continues to this day.

I’ve learned diverse skills from using new software to timing athletic meets to taking better photos. Although uncomfortable at first, I learned how to persistently fund raise through email and phone calls.

I’ve seen first-hand how a presidential campaign is run, how our voting laws change and how climate is impacting our local ecosystem and estuaries. I have a better understanding of the world beyond my tiny corner of it.

Volunteering for a role that stretches your skills or puts you in completely uncharted territory adds to your life in ways you probably won’t first appreciate. It will help bring purpose to your life.

Say yes, but know your limits

I’ve had many amazing volunteer experiences. And only a couple that were not. My cautionary advice is to understand, as an unpaid volunteer, what your own limitations and expectations are for the role.

For example, while you likely aren’t volunteering solely for recognition what would you do if you felt fully unappreciated?

I had one volunteer position that I absolutely loved. One time I had the misfortune to be within earshot of one of the (paid) supervisors talking on the phone.

The supervisor spoke at length about the moms doing all the busy-work around here or something like that. Yikes. Not only did I feel unappreciated I felt as if what I was doing didn’t matter. A waste of time.

Time is precious for all of us, paid or unpaid. I finished what I had originally agreed to do but clearly never felt the same about the role. Hopefully this never happens to you but if you are feeling unappreciated then definitely consider why!

Where to start

We can all help make a difference in the world. Big or small, it all matters. Think about what causes are most important to you, and jump in.

Be sure to follow Seacoast-based Cheers for Charity NH on Facebook – they have frequent posts listing local volunteer opportunities.

Granite United Way volunteer opportunities – statewide includes current Seacoast listings.

The Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and Discovery Center in Greenland has many volunteer opportunities (I’m one of them!) Connect with others to help protect the Great Bay.

Gather, serving Seacoast residents facing hunger.

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Hello, I’m Nancy! I’m a New Hampshire native and have enjoyed living in the Seacoast with my husband, stepdaughter and son for quite a while, decades in fact! I’ve been a software engineer, home stager, a school and community volunteer and a stay-at-home mom. I wrote a weekly running column for Seacoast Sunday/Foster’s Daily Democrat/Portsmouth Herald for many years and reported on road races including my dream assignments at the Boston Marathon. Not surprisingly, I’m an avid runner and am happiest outdoors! Nothing beats the sweet exhaustion after a long and active day spent outside in every season. Our nest is now generally empty with both kids navigating their own adult lives and my husband and I are enjoying our time together and with our two great cats. Motherhood (and life) is ever-changing and I’m adjusting to this new stage and reflecting on how lucky we’ve been.