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The balanced life: Local Volunteering

Posted by Chad O'Connor  January 22, 2013 11:00 AM

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This article is the second in a monthly, five-part series that advocates for living a balanced life in the areas of: Global Citizenship, Local Volunteering, Meaningful Careers, Strong Networks, and an Empowered Self.

OK… so Mayan Doomsday predictions were wrong... and here we are in 2013! Perhaps some of us are diligently adhering to New Year's resolutions, like the 88 decrees outlined in this January 1st blog post. The author’s 33rd resolution is: “I will volunteer,” and she suggests these two resources:

January is National Mentoring Month, thus is a perfect time to start a mentoring relationship! There are several well-established organizations that can match you with mentees, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay, which has 60 years of experience in Boston, and serves approximately 2,000 youth in one-to-one relationships, in around 155 cities and towns.

I personally feel very drawn to giving back through mentoring, because I remember that learning from my first mentor was such a transformative experience for me. In 1997, while a senior in High School, I took a class in Entrepreneurship. My teacher was named Jennifer Kushell, and she became my first mentor – teaching me essential business skills, like how to write my first resume, and the power and importance of networking. Jennifer continues to inspire hundreds of Youth through her company, now called Your Success Network. In the 16 years since meeting Jennifer, I have continued to cultivate and share those skills with others.

In 2012 I began mentoring in a more official capacity, as a Leadership Coach for Strong Women Strong Girls – which was founded by Lindsay Hyde in 2000, while she was a student at Harvard College. SWSG matched me with a college-aged “Coach-ee,” who I meet with once a month, to enjoy cultural activities around the city, including: seeing Mario Testino’s photo exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, and attending a French film at the Kendall Square Cinema. We are developing a friendship, and learning from each other as well, which is proving to be mutually rewarding.

Cultivating Community Knowledge
You may have heard of TED - a nonprofit started in 1984. TED is devoted to promoting “Ideas Worth Spreading. ” Through conferences and an award-winning video website, TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) has reached and inspired over a billion people.

According to, TEDx is an offshoot program, which “gives communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level.” There are several TEDx events that have sprung up in and around Boston – including TEDxBoston, TEDxCambridge, and TEDxSomerville.

In 2012, TEDxBeaconStreet was founded by John Werner, Chief Mobilizng Officer, of Citizen Schools. The free event, which was held at the Lincoln School in Brookline on November 17th and 18th, 2012, was themed “Ideas in Action.” TEDxBeaconStreet also coordinates educational “Adventures” throughout the year, which Werner believes, “offer unparalleled, behind-the-scenes access to the people and places that make the Greater Boston area so dynamic.”

During the months and weeks leading up to the event, I began volunteering as a Curator – brainstorming at planning meetings, recruiting guests and speakers, and attending speaker rehearsals. I found this to be an incredibly worthwhile volunteer experience, because I was able to meet and work with so many new people and ideas that I may have otherwise never been exposed to. I encourage people to contact TEDxBeaconStreet, to share their time, talent, and treasure.

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile." So, in 2013, consider ways you can improve your local community by living for others.

Shannon O’Brien works at MIT, and is the founder of Whole U., a consultancy which advises on living balanced, purposeful lives, and connecting to meaningful careers and service projects. She can be reached at and

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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