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In recognition of National Volunteer Week, we want to take a moment to thank our volunteers for their time and talents. No matter how little or how much you’ve had to spare, your engagement helps to advance the profession and optimize our services to patients and clients.

Whether you're a volunteering veteran or just thinking about dipping your toes into the water, here are five ways to make the most of your APTA volunteer experiences. Quotes in this article were taken from the February 2021 APTA Magazine feature “Volunteers Make APTA Possible.”

1. Find allies and guides. It’s always more fun to share an experience, so seek out someone to work alongside you. Tamara Gravano, PT, DPT, shared this insight: “There are so many openings waiting to get filled. I think some members feel intimidated when they see all these people doing these important jobs, but there’s always someone to guide you. Someone will take you through it all, and you grow your network and develop more connections.” If you’re new to volunteering, seek out someone who’s been involved. And if you’re an experienced volunteer, be that guide to someone new.

2. Fit the opportunity to your capacity. “Volunteer experiences are tailored to the bandwidth a volunteer has to contribute,” according to Cindy Johnson Armstrong, PT, DPT. This could be anything from writing a 10-minute comment letter advocating on a pressing issue to running for a component or national office. When gauging what level of service you’re up for, keep in mind that others will be depending on your commitment to follow through.

3. Make it personal. Look for opportunities that reflect your needs, goals, and passions; you might be more engaged when you have personal skin in the game. Is an issue impacting your own facility or individual situation as a PT, PTA, or student? An issue such as administrative burden, for example, is likely having the same effect on others in the profession as it's having on you, and your efforts not only can help you but also can have a wider impact.

4. Expand your network. Take advantage of your interactions during volunteer opportunities by staying in touch with your colleagues. “As a volunteer, once your service is complete, you maintain your family of fellow volunteers forever,” William C. Stokes, PT, DPT, said. “That is what makes APTA one of the best organizations to be a part of and serve.”

5. Be recognized. Volunteering for its own rewards feels awesome. What can feel even more awesome is being spotlighted for your efforts. APTA’s Honors & Awards Program has dozens of categories, many that recognize volunteer service. Consider nominating colleagues or yourself.

In addition to expressing its gratitude for member volunteers, the association makes it easy to find and get involved in opportunities. APTA Engage is our online portal for finding and posting volunteer opportunities large and small, on national and local levels.

To start, choose “Opt In” on the APTA Engage home page, and create a member profile. This helps the association know what kinds of opportunities you’re interested in. If you choose to, you’ll receive email alerts when an opportunity that seems a good fit becomes available. But you don’t have to wait for an alert: Review the Volunteer Opportunities List to see where help is needed. Click on an opportunity to learn more and apply.

You may hear of an opportunity outside of APTA Engage — often APTA and its components will publicize a volunteer activity through news, other emails, in APTA Magazine, and elsewhere. If the notice asks for you to sign up via APTA Engage, log in and search for the opportunity or use the link provided in the notice.

And if you had a great volunteer experience, APTA Engage even provides a forum for sharing your story. Find “Share Your Volunteer Story” and follow the prompts to post your thoughts on the experience and hopefully inspire others to look for opportunities.

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