* Volunteer Work: A Super-Smart Frugal Strategy

When we think of preparing for emergencies, conventional wisdom tells us to stockpile food and water, know how to shut off our home utilities, and have a family plan. I can watch videos on the Internet and read books to learn preparedness skills. I have a plan and supplies to take my pets with me if I have to evacuate. So is that it? Am I done?

I would argue that there is a way to take your preparedness to the next level by becoming a volunteer. You can learn prepper skills through volunteer work without having to spend a dime on that training.

My advice on volunteering is mostly selfish as someone who has worked in the emergency response field for many years. I’m suggesting a fair exchange of your valuable personal time for knowledge, skills, and abilities that will increase your level of emergency preparedness and provide much needed help for the multitude of emergency agencies that exist. You would be surprised how much you can learn, how many like-minded people you can meet, and how your confidence can swell with focused, goal-oriented volunteer service.

In many ways, volunteers are in a better position to define their experience with their organization than if they were an employee. In many cases, the employer-employee relationship is coercive, with the money exchanged held over the employee’s head. The special status of the volunteer, sacrificing their time for no reimbursement, can open opportunities that are generally only available to paid staff.

I’ll make the case for learning prepper skills through volunteer work

I first volunteered in high school, through my school’s Key Club. I represented our school in a wheelchair-a-thon for a local charity; people pledged an amount for each lap I could complete around the ¼ mile school track. I surprised myself and others when I was able to push my wheelchair a full 5 miles that day…and I gained the perspective of the limitations of being confined to a wheelchair.

Over the years, other volunteer stints included:

  • Time as a police Explorer Scout, where I learned law enforcement culture, leading to a future job as a city cop
  • Volunteer firefighter, where I learned fire suppression and rescue skills, and gained lifelong friends
  • Disaster Medical Assistance Team member, leading to disaster deployments across the country and a chance to develop leadership skills
  • Currently a member of Team Rubicon where I just spent a weekend learning chainsaw skills and hanging out with patriots.

My investment in these opportunities was the effort spent looking for a good volunteer opportunity, my time, and attention.

Step 1: Road map to success

A first step is making an honest assessment of what you need to learn, as a prepper. Let’s say your weakness is in communications. You never even had a CB radio. Most communities have an Amateur Radio group associated with a police or fire department to provide communications support in emergencies. These groups are known by different acronyms like RACES or ARES, but all provide valuable opportunities to learn about radio communications and an inside view of their hosting agency, in exchange for a few hours of your time here and there.

If you’re going to learn prepper skills through volunteer work, you must first identify what it is you need to learn.

Want to increase your cooking skills on a shoestring budget? Volunteer for a soup kitchen. Don’t know the difference between a ball peen hammer and a cat’s paw? Habitat for Humanity will get you squared away. Building a house piece by piece will give you an extraordinary range of skills. And no outfit will teach you flexibility and give you more front-line experience with victims better than the American Red Cross. Their Disaster Action Teams help people every day in communities across the country. In addition, most communities have a “Volunteer Center” that helps steer prospective volunteers to appropriate volunteer groups that need help.

Step 2: Focus and Commit

You won’t achieve your goals and meet your needs if you approach volunteering in a half-assed manner. Volunteer-based groups go through hundreds of prospects before finding a person that can follow directions, take whatever entry-level training they require, and show up to meetings and events as expected. Believe me, once you are assessed to be a reliable volunteer that can follow rules and directions, opportunities will open up. Every group has an “old guard” that carries the institutional knowledge of the group, and if approached respectfully they love to pass on their knowledge no matter what the subject.

The training or opportunity that is your primary interest may not be immediately available. While you wait, make it a point to show up for as many events or work details as you can. Remember that volunteer organizations know that 80% of the needed work is done by 20% of their people. So be one of the 20% and they will invest in you.

Step 3: Assess your contribution vs. your gain

Volunteer as long as it meets your needs. There may come a time when you feel that it is no longer a good match for you…that’s OK! End your service to the group gracefully and move on, the need for good volunteers always exceeds the number available. On the other hand, if you have organizational or leadership skills, work your way up within a group; your opportunities to learn skills and access training will naturally increase.

Complete the Circle: Share your experience

This is both a suggestion and a challenge: as a volunteer, there area always new volunteers joining your group who need basic information and mentoring. If you are motivated to share information and skills with them, your skill level will increase as well. On the other hand, if that’s not your cup of tea you still need to pass the knowledge you gain as a volunteer to family and friends, increasing their knowledge, skills, and abilities. You invested the time and effort; make sure you can take advantage of what you learned in return.

Author Jim Acosta

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