By Jackie James —

Passion. It’s the emotion that drives our very purpose; it’s a feeling of enthusiasm, accomplishment and specific intention, all rolled into one.  Many people live their whole lives without determining their true passion; others know early on what brings them unbelievable joy. Whether you already know your life’s meaning, you’re just finding your way or you are completely clueless about your existence on this planet, that’s okay; an excellent way to explore your passion is to volunteer. No, you won’t get paid, at least not in dollars, but helping someone else for the sheer sake of helping them delivers a fulfillment that money can’t buy. Passion, contrary to popular sentiment, is decidedly NOT all about the Benjamins…

Arizona has many charities that could use an extra hand, and even if you don’t know what drives your passion, volunteering can help you find it. For instance, if you love to sing or dance, you can always approach an elderly care facility to see if you can perform for the residents. They will truly appreciate your taking the time to spend with them, and you will get to live out your passion. Maybe, instead, animals are your true passion, and you want to help animals in need at the Arizona Humane Society. Volunteering at any local shelter to just walk the dogs or clean up after the cats lets homeless animals know you care and you can give them the love they desperately need. Volunteering doesn’t need to be a chore; it can be something you genuinely look forward to doing!

The first step to finding a charity is finding something you genuinely care about. If you had a family member who passed away due to a disease or medical condition and you want to help others facing the same situation, you might consider raising money for their charity or volunteering your time. For instance, The American Diabetes Association has a bike ride once a year; you could have people sponsor you and you could raise funds just by riding your bike! The American Cancer Society has a program that provides patients with volunteers to enhance their beauty; put your make-up skills to the test and help someone feel better who is battling cancer! Or the Red Cross is always seeking blood donors; you could set up a blood drive at your school. Or, you can help another teen in crisis by volunteering your time at Teen Lifeline, a confidential, 24-hour a day help line that is staffed by trained peer counselors.  Volunteering for a cause you truly care about and have a personal connection to can be very rewarding.

Want to do charity work with a group of your friends? Feed My Starving Children has groups that work together to package food for the needy; you can make a contest out of the group that packages the most food! Looking for a charity that serves the local community? St. Mary’s Food Bank has spots for youth who would like to volunteer, and you can help pack boxes to feed the homeless. The options are as endless as the passion that fuels them.

When you finally select the charity you would like to donate to, or volunteer your time to, make sure they are legitimate. You have heard of scam artists who pretend to collect money and items for charity; check out your charity online at Charity to make sure your contribution is going to a worthy cause.

Also, when you start out, regardless of what you’re doing, start small and build up. You can volunteer once a month until you feel comfortable, and then start giving more time, if it’s possible. You want to make you’re your skills are a good fit for the charity and that you feel like you are truly accomplishing something. If you’re still not sure what stirs your passion then log on to and through the magic of the internet, they can take your interests and match you with a worthy charity or cause. It’s simple really; find a cause and be the change you want to see in the world.

But really, who has time to volunteer, you ask? Believe it or not, you do. Sure, you can spend your free time playing Xbox or watching another episode of “Vanderpump Rules” but what can you do to truly make a difference in someone’s life? If you have ever felt sheer gratitude because someone helped you out when you needed it, imagine being on the giving end of that equation. That warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you know you have made a difference, however small it might be, is the feeling of an altruistic, or wholly unselfish act. It might be as simple as mowing an elderly neighbor’s yard for no charge or it could be as complex as starting your OWN charity. Everything starts with just an idea; it’s putting that idea into action that makes all the difference. The first step to take is to find what fulfills you, and what motivates you. Each of us has a unique, special talent that we can utilize to enrich others’ lives, and sometimes when we volunteer, we uncover talents we never even knew we had!