Millennial volunteers look to buck 'selfie generation' image, make difference in rapidly changing region

How do you spend your free time?

More millennials are becoming volunteers, which kind of goes against everything we hear about them.

You know the stereotypes:  They’re the “selfie generation.” Self-absorbed and overly pampered. They’re also the largest generation in the country and a growing part of the 1.6 million people in this state who volunteer. In fact, 30 percent of millennials spend time volunteering, donating an average of 38 hours per year to community service.

27-year-old Almeera Anwar works in Human Resources at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She says, despite dedicating her work day to an organization tackling critical problems around the world, she wanted to do more for the city she calls home.

“For me, volunteering is something you do, not because it’s your job, you do it because you care about your community,” Anwar says.

So, she talked to a friend about volunteering. But like so many, didn’t know where to look or how to help.

“So we literally opened up Bing and started searching for volunteering in Seattle and Seattle Works was one of the first organizations that came up.”

Seattle Works is a non-profit and matchmaker of sorts.  It connects local non-profit organizations desperate for a helping hand with companies providing a volunteer workforce and individual volunteers ready to pitch in.

“It has to start somewhere,” says Ben Ruler, the Executive Director of Seattle Works.

He adds, “that’s what we’re really proud of doing at Seattle Works, being a port of entry for people wondering how to plug in.”

Once they’re plugged, the collaboration leads to stronger communities.

Seattle Works showed off photos of examples of the projects completed by teams of volunteers.  Some working with rescued baby goats.  Others transforming a play space for abused and neglected children.

Ruler says the benefits are endless, adding, “You’re going to meet great people, explore great neighborhoods, melt the Seattle freeze, and hopefully you fall in love with other causes.”

Volunteers often become an essential part of the workforce for some non-profits.

“Volunteers are so critical,” says Gayle Johnson, the Chief External Relations Officer at Northwest Harvest, which collects and distributes food to roughly 375 food banks across the state.

Volunteers provide much of the labor, saving the organization about 50 full-time salaries. Allowing those offering up their free time to realize the fruits of their labor.

“The volunteers love it,” says Johnson. “They feel like they’re contributing to this community and they are excited about it.”

Ruler says volunteering has psychological and emotional benefits as well. “Those of us who volunteer have more peace in our lives, we feel more of a sense of purpose and that’s addicting,” he says.

Hooked, you could say, on a sense of purpose.

If you’d like to try volunteering, Seattle Works is hosting a big volunteer day called Seattle Works Day.  It features more than 1,000 volunteers at 50 different non-profit locations around the Seattle area.

When:   Saturday, June 17th

12 to 3:30 pm: Volunteer projects around the city

3:30 to 5:30pm: After Party at Pyramid Alehouse, 1201 1st Ave. S.

For more information: