As one of the most direct ways to give back to your community, volunteer work can help support those most in need of your care and dedication.

I discovered firsthand how volunteering can build positive experiences that can create personal fulfillment and success for everyone involved. A couple years ago, I began volunteering with The Friendship Circle, a Jewish organization with over 80 global locations that serves individuals with special needs.

Originally, I wanted to become involved with the organization because it touched a cord in my own life. My 18-year-old cousin was diagnosed with autism and I was very close to her growing up. I felt by doing this I could help make an impact on my local community, but also to learn and grow as a person.

As a volunteer, I work with the same child one to two times per week. During this time we play together, work on homework, or any recreational activity that allows me to support my mentee. As I’ve become more integrated with The Friendship Circle’s mission, I’m excited to act as a board member starting next year. Already, I’ve recruited a number of friends to join the organization.

Throughout the experience, I’ve learned that acting as an older mentor can have an extraordinary impact on the development and social skills of my mentee. As we’ve built a strong and trusting foundation for a friendship, I have seen everyday social skills he’s struggled with start to improve.

The Proven Benefits of Volunteering

At the Friendship Circle’s Upper East Side location, the team is dedicated to fostering happiness and companionship in children, teens and young adults with special needs. Our goal is to celebrate their individuality and interests by extending support to them and their families. Not only does socialization help those with special needs with anxiety, mental health and mindful stimulation, but volunteering also has proven benefits for the mentors, too.

A report from Harvard University, for example, shows that volunteering may be good for your physical and mental health, lowering your chances of heart disease and while also reducing your levels of stress and depression.

I can attest to those benefits since working with The Friendship Circle has reiterated my sense of purpose and compassion for the world around me.

Not only is this great for one’s overall self-growth, but volunteering’s benefits also builds upon your professional capabilities as well. As Gregory Burton, Vice President of Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region mentions to Forbes, nonprofit organizations operate similarly to corporations (except for the funding). Meaning there are similar operational departments that give volunteers the opportunities to learn and develop their skills from event sponsorship to board management and even marketing and financial management. Additionally, volunteers can create transferable skills which are necessary to evolve in any career. These skills range from the interpersonal, service, people and time management abilities, listening. As research indicates, a hands-on approach used when volunteering within community organizations like The Friendship Circle is the key to developing a self-driven mentality and thoughtful leadership skills.

Despite how volunteering has helped me personally, the biggest privilege of working with The Friendship Circle is the ability to connect with others and build a compassionate window to the outside world for these kids and young adults. The experience has truly shown me what both mentor and mentee can learn from each other and the true value of community and connection. I think that as more teenagers get involved with community and charity organizations, they can help redefine what it means to act as a compassionate and selfless leader; something we could always use more of in today’s world. And remember, when we work together, we succeed together.