Melanie Tillotson made a resolution to volunteer every week for a year.
Melanie Tillotson made a resolution to volunteer every week for a year.
Volunteering & Giving
December 26, 2014

6 tips to jump-start your volunteer efforts

A novel New Year’s resolution taught a Wells Fargo team member in Sacramento, California, six valuable lessons about volunteering.

For as long as she can remember, Melanie Tillotson of Sacramento, California, has been passionate about helping make her community a better place.

Her enthusiasm prompted friends and co-workers to approach her about volunteering. They would ask, “‘What’s a nonprofit that supports pets?’ or ‘Where can I volunteer with my kids?’” she says.

The Wells Fargo administrative assistant didn’t always have an answer, so a few years ago she made a New Year’s resolution to volunteer at a different nonprofit each week for a year. She named her goal: “52 weeks, 1 difference.”

“I had volunteered with different organizations but wanted to get a better idea of other opportunities we have locally,” she says. She also wanted to help other people have a better idea of what to expect when they volunteer.

The end of the year also is a time when she reflects on the challenges that exist in the world, which can make her feel a little hopeless. “Many people think, ‘What can I do? I’m just one person.’ But doing a small part in your piece of the world can make a difference and offset some of the bad,” she says.

Today when people ask her questions about volunteering, she says this is what she learned by volunteering every week for a year:

Tip 1 to volunteerism
Tip 2 to volunteerism
Tip 3 to volunteerism
Tip 4 to volunteerism
Tip 5 to volunteerism
Tip 6 to volunteerism

“To make sure my volunteering didn’t take away from time with my family, I found ways to involve them. I also spent a lot of time talking to my children about why community service is important,” says Melanie. “There were times that I missed out on other activities because I was scheduled to volunteer. But it is kind of like running . . . you wake up and start to talk yourself out of it. Once you do it, though, you feel great!”

During her 52-week project, Melanie’s volunteer activities included:

  • Serving Thanksgiving meals to homeless people with the Sacramento Kings.
  • Participating in a walk to honor American soldiers killed in combat in Iraq.
  • Doing administrative work with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
  • Selling tickets at a fundraiser to benefit the Sacramento Children’s Home.
  • Collecting used bikes to donate to those in need.

Throughout her yearlong efforts, she came to realize that her passion is helping children. She and a friend are in the process of starting a nonprofit called SkateMD, with a mission to “heal hearts through skateboarding.” The one-on-one skateboard camps and clinics will empower children facing developmental, physical, emotional or family challenges through exercise, positive interactions and fun, while increasing tolerance and compassion in the community, Melanie says.

“I tell people to really think about what they want to do. It’s so easy to focus on the bad news in the world, but we can do so much good when we volunteer,” says Melanie.

Melanie Tillotson made a resolution to volunteer every week for a year.
Melanie (far right) spent a year of volunteering at different nonprofits each week.