Taken from a talk I gave at the 2010 American Fork City Volunteer Fair.
The first time I can remember being formally involved in community service was when I was twelve years old. My mom heard that our local library operated a service delivering books to shut-ins. That sounded like fun, so I agreed to participate. The volunteer coordinator was reluctant to sign me up as I was young and had no car, but my mom convinced her that I was dedicated and responsible, and loved to ride my bike (all partly true). I was assigned to an older woman who was totally bedridden. The volunteer coordinator's fears proved to be well founded. We lived a couple of miles outside of town. It was very hot, and very windy. I had to ride my bike about six miles against the wind to get to the library, and then another five or six miles to the woman's house carrying up to ten heavy, large-print books on my handlebars. I was a little shy, especially of elderly people, and had trouble chatting with the lady, whose situation made me uncomfortable. I don't think I delivered books more than twice, and then I just quit going. Tragically, I was ashamed and afraid to go in to the library for a long time after that. The experience did not turn me off to service, but it did teach me two things:
Volunteering should be convenient.*
No matter how much you want to prove yourself as a person who can sacrifice everything for a worthy cause, a sustainable endeavor has to be something you can do using the time and resources already available to you.
Volunteering should be enjoyable.
Don't sign up for the most awkward, uncomfortable opportunity you can find--even if your friends or neighbors are telling you it's for a great cause. There are thousands of great causes out there. Take your time and find the one that will bring you personal fulfillment as well as provide a service to the community. It's okay, in fact it's preferable, to find joy in service. You're more likely to enjoy it and keep at it if you do.
*That said, there are times when we need to simply step in and do what is needed. We may not have time, we may not be qualified, and the need may not provide an opportunity to interact with another human being. This does not mean we shouldn't act. We should act. We must occasionally rush to the aid of others and throw ourselves in to that service with all our hearts. However, we can also be looking for long-term opportunities to do good in the world. It is at that time that these guidelines can be helpful—both in ensuring that you will do something of value, and that you will find fulfillment in doing it.