The Power of Participation: Volunteering for ChangeDecember 02, 2020
Written and contributed by Angie Baker
Early in my college career, I met 2 gentlemen who started their own HIV/STI community clinic, primarily serving the LGBTQIA+ community. They started this clinic because, at the time, they and other gay men were being turned away by medical providers for treatment of sexually transmitted infections and later, HIV. I started volunteering at the clinic, which was entirely operated by volunteers. At the time, I was still figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up. While some may argue I am still on that path, volunteering at Brady East STD Clinic in Milwaukee, WI gave me an introduction to the HIV world, and helped me to attempt to understand inequalities in public health and social services. I was later able to tailor my student internships to learning more about HIV service provision, and before I graduated, I found myself employed in my first HIV-related job as an HIV test counselor embedded in a homeless youth outreach team. Volunteering gave me a sense of purpose and direction, as well as hands-on experience, and I doubt I could have learned nearly as much from the classroom alone.
One of the many things to come out of our current public health crisis is that people are evaluating the amount and use of their free time, and are coming up with new, more meaningful ways to use it. The power of donated time, talents, resources and financial contributions have contributed to history’s most significant movements for change and social justice. Not all volunteerism and philanthropy is motivated by altruism. Instead, many see the benefits of the change they are contributing to far more valuable, and with longer-lasting benefit, than any sort of payment for work.
Understanding one’s values and what kind of society or community one wants to live in is a wonderful starting point. Some see value in supporting disenfranchised or underprivileged youth. They believe by mentoring or working with these youth or contributing financial or other resources to them that they are giving young people better chances to thrive and become their best selves. Others choose to spend their time with elders, with unhoused people or with victims of violence, hoping to uplift and provide hope and companionship when some feel at their lowest and need additional support. Still others choose to contribute their time, talents and finances to LGBTQIA+ causes, recognizing that this community is not granted the same rights, privileges and respect as heterosexual cisgender people are, often suffering bias and at times, violence, simply for being who they are and loving who they love.
CenterLink, the national community network of LGBTQIA+ community centers, has found that 42% of community centers across the country have 1-5 staff and 55% have no paid staff at all, relying heavily on volunteers*. The same is true for other LGBTQIA+ community non-profits doing advocacy and community-building work. For example, The Mosaic Project of South Texas, Inc., the non-profit responsible for planning and organizing Pride Corpus Christi, among other advocacy efforts, is 100% volunteer driven and donor supported (www.pridecorpuschristi.com). When “…volunteers are motivated primarily by their personal values, mission of the organization, and desire to develop and maintain social relationships with the LGBTQ community”**, the often under-represented LGBTQIA+ community gains positive public awareness, visibility and community cohesion, thereby reducing false narratives and negative bias about same-gender loving and gender minority individuals, and strengthening community and individual relationships.
Contributing your time and talents to benefitting the community within which you live can make significant positive changes in the personal lives of people around you, but it can also benefit you on a direct, personal level as well. “One of the more well-known benefits of volunteering is the impact on the community. Volunteering allows you to connect to your community and make it a better place. Even helping out with the smallest tasks can make a real difference to the lives of people, animals, and organizations in need. And volunteering is a two-way street: It can benefit you and your family as much as the cause you choose to help. Dedicating your time as a volunteer helps you make new friends, expand your network, and boost your social skills.”***
Additionally, and especially since the pandemic began, many social service and other community non-profits benefit from the financial generosity of their supporters. In fact, CenterLink reports that 64% of small LGBTQIA+ community centers say their main source of funding stems from either individual contributions or fundraising events*. With so many funds going to slow, stop and treat COVID-19, and with so many people finding themselves in need due to COVID’s economic impact and job loss, there is less traditional grant funding available to support many of the critical community services and supports that so many non-profits provide. Donated funds ensure LGBTQIA+ organizations can continue to provide programs and services to those who need it most.
If you are in the fortunate position of having time, talents, money or other resources to spare, please consider contributing to one of the following organizations:
LULAC Para Todos
LGBTQ Community Center Survey Report: Assessing the Capacity of Programs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Community Centers, October 2020. https://www.lgbtcenters.org/Assets/Images/PageContent/Full/lgbtq-centers-report-2020.pdf
** “Volunteers work for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer rights: Motivations at a Rochester social justice organization”,
Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 28:1, 39-53, DOI: 10.1080/10538720.2016.1124352. Trevor G. Gates, Elizabeth B.
Russell & Jeanne Gainsburg.