Out of the Red: Volunteers lend a hand, get a hand

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – On Mondays after work, Summer Allison heads to the library to help elementary students with their homework.

“Sometimes it is the best part of my week,” Allison said.

The 25-year-old interior designer is a volunteer with Hands on Charlotte, an organization that supplies manpower to nonprofits that don’t have the resources to run their own volunteer programs. Hands on Charlotte volunteers pick from dozens of projects, which include helping adults study for their GED, visiting with seniors, washing dogs and picking up litter.

Aside from the feel-good benefit, volunteers say giving back has other advantages. It can spark friendships and career contacts. One of Allison’s best friends is someone she met three years ago at a Hands on Charlotte orientation session.

In a city of newcomers, civic involvement is almost a prerequisite to ensuring career progress and establishing relationships, important for young professionals looking to forge friendships and business contacts.

Amy Barton, 34, met her husband through the Charlotte Jaycees, a service and social group for people ages 21-40 that she joined in 1999. The group sponsors social and fundraising events for nonprofit groups.

The Jaycees helps young professionals develop leadership skills. Consider, Barton said, how her husband James Barton, the 2006 president of the Jaycees, oversaw the group’s signature haunted house fundraising project last year.

“He ran it like a business and that is part of the Jaycees’ thing – leadership skills through community service,” said Barton, a paralegal. “We had a budget. We had a marketing team. Each subcommittee had a team leader with a team to manage. We are the people training to be management and upper management. This is a chance to get that experience and enrich your life and your career.”

Community involvement can also mean interaction with some of the city’s prominent business people. Many executives sit on boards of charitable and civic organizations. But that should not be your chief motivator, said Anne McPhail, 43, a former Wachovia banker who is on the board of Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center and a member of the Women’s Auxiliary at the Mint Museum and the Junior League. She’s been volunteering for more than 20 years, since she was a banker starting out in her native Jacksonville, Fla., and she worked with a junior high school Junior Achievement class.

(If you want to network, get the feel of the group first to figure out if and when it is appropriate. Don’t just start doling out business cards.)

And if your heart wants to give more to worthy causes than your bank account will allow, you can make up some of the difference by donating your time. Tax season is a good time to assess that as you are tallying up charitable donations.

Amy Baldwin covers money-related topics for 20- and 30-somethings in “Out of the Red.” Contact her at (704) 358-5179 or abaldwin@charlotteobserver.com. Leave your name and daytime phone number.

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