You’ve read story after story about volunteers making a difference in our community. You have friends who care for their families, earn a living and still make time to help those who are less fortunate. Even your dog helps grandmothers cross the street.

Have you been inspired – or at least, guilt-driven – into action? If so, 1995 is the year to take a step into the world of volunteering.

If you’re not sure where you want to volunteer or what you want to do, call the Volunteer Center of Dallas County at 826-6767. The Volunteer Center is a clearinghouse to recruit and refer volunteers to more than 700 nonprofit organizations.

The agency’s database contains more than 7,000 volunteer jobs. You can access all this information with a phone call to a Volunteer Center phone counselor.

Counselors are available Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. These volunteers are the backbone of the Volunteer Center’s operation. Their minds (and computers) contain volumes of information about nonprofit organizations in Dallas County.

Once you’ve taken the plunge and called the Volunteer Center, the counselors will ask you a few questions to learn your interests and availability.

  • Who do you want to help?

Maybe you enjoy senior citizens, and young children make you want to scream. Perhaps there are people with special circumstances you want to help – the homeless, the sick or the abused. Is there a particular cause that interests you – the environment, animals, disaster relief? The possibilities are endless.

  • Where do you want to help?

Your volunteer position can be close to your home or office, or it can be across town. Remember, many nonprofit organizations, especially homeless shelters and other residential facilities, are located near Downtown.

  • How much time are you willing to commit?

Special events – bicycle races, carnivals, basketball tournaments – are ideal for people who want to “try on” volunteering. Some volunteers prefer participating in short-term projects like clothing drives and neighborhood cleanup days.

If you’re ready to go all the way and make a commitment to an agency, you can volunteer weekly, monthly, quarterly or somewhere in between. Each agency has a minimum commitment requirement.

  • What can you contribute?

You have skills that an organization can put to good use. Are you handy with a hammer, savvy when public speaking, or capable on a computer? Maybe you call a mean game of Bingo. You’ll be surprised at how your interests and talents can benefit a nonprofit agency and its clients.

Once the counselors have established the basics, they will give you the names of two or three nonprofit organizations and their volunteer managers.

Then it’s time for another phone call to the volunteer managers. Tell them you are interested in becoming a volunteer, and ask questions about their organizations. What is their mission statement? Who are their clients? How can volunteers help?

The Volunteer Center often receives calls from volunteers who want to start making a difference tomorrow. In most cases, a phone call to the Volunteer Center today will not result in reading stories to preschoolers tomorrow.

Once you call the agencies and find one you like, your next steps will be completing an application, scheduling an interview and attending a volunteer orientation. In many cases, especially if you’ll be working with children or other vulnerable clients, you must agree to undergo a criminal background check.

Each step takes time. Please understand these procedures are for your benefit, as well as the agency’s. Volunteer managers want to make sure that the agency’s needs are met and the volunteer’s skills are fully utilized. Organizations also must protect their clients.

After you complete the initial application and training procedures, you are officially a volunteer. You are on your way to making the community a better place.

What happens if you don’t click with the first agency you call? Try the next one, and the next one. If you still can’t make a match, call the Volunteer Center and the counselors will try again. With more than 7,000 jobs at 700 organizations, there truly is something for everyone.

So go ahead, pick up the phone, become a volunteer. You’ll be glad you did. And so will those you help.