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The physical and mental health benefits of volunteering are well-documented. But giving back could also give you the skills, contacts, and confidence you need to find a brand new career.

Feeding the masses

After graduating from Drexel University in Philadelphia with a degree in film production, Lisa DeSantis made her debut in show business, working as an assistant director on films and production assistant in theatrical productions. Most of the work was freelance, working on a movie set here or a theater production there. The days were long and the budgets small, but she liked the work.

There were some challenges, however. As an introvert, DeSantis found it hard to go from job to job, always starting over and making new connections with her co-workers. “I’d work four or five weeks on a film, then move on to the next film, which was exhausting,” she says.

DeSantis, a longtime gardening buff, had always been environmentally conscious. When she was helping to “load out” a production from a theater after it was finished, she looked at how much of the material was going into the Dumpster. And she wasn’t okay with it.

After working with a few eco-film businesses, she landed a job on a Wisconsin farm for a season. She loved the work. But as she helped sell the beautiful produce, that conscience piped up again, and she began thinking about all of the people who didn’t have access or money for such healthy food. Unsure about what she wanted to do next, she spotted a volunteer position with Americorps—in Hawaiʻi—and applied.

DeSantis landed the role, which was part of a nutrition incentive program, and moved to the Big Island roughly a month later. The program for which she worked gave Supplemental Nutrition and Benefits (SNAP) users a financial incentive for every $10 of their benefits they spent on fresh produce.

Ultimately, the role led to an opportunity to develop and build the Kōkua Harvest running a food gleaning program that harvests and distributes produce from gardens, fruit trees, or other produce producers have yielded more than the owners want or need. She his happily settled on the island but says she doesn’t think she could live there if she wasn’t actively giving back to her community. “I need to be able to be serving the community in a way that's beneficial. And I think that giving out thousands of pounds of food to folks is, hopefully, beneficial,” she says.

Sharing hard-won wisdom

Susan Berman didn’t plan on becoming an entrepreneur. She was working in publishing and going to business school when she had an idea for women’s hair accessories. And they caught on.

“I made everything myself I went to business school, stayed up all night making orders,” she says. She met first with boutique owners, then with buyers from major retailers like Barney’s. Her accessory brand—Susan Daniels Accessories—became a sensation and, over the next two decades, she grew it into an international brand. She closed the company a decade ago but craved a new opportunity. So, she opened an exercise studio.

Throughout her years as an entrepreneur, Berman would informally mentor other women business owners, giving them tips and advice. She also volunteered for a nonprofit that helped women and minority business owners. Her specialty was helping clients formulate a strong brand voice as well as creating consistent messaging and overall marketing strategies. She loved watching these small business owners succeed, but the experience also taught her something. “I realized how much I had learned from my own experience as an entrepreneur and how valuable this was to others,” she says.

That realization led her to co-create yet another company, Collaboratory Consulting Group, LLC, where she and her co-founder work with business owners to build strong brand foundations and strategies for growth. The business targets emerging businesses that are seeking to make their first $1 million.

Berman says that her volunteer experience helped her have the confidence to co-found the consulting business. She still volunteers with the nonprofit, as well. One moment that drove home the impact sharing wisdom and experience can have is when a former client she helped through her volunteer work donated back to the organization in her mentors’ names. “To me, that was so meaningful,” she says.

Curious to learn more about how volunteering can help you learn new skills and maybe even find a new job? Find out more here.