Hello again! I'm back to share another part of my journey to becoming a registered dietitian (RD). I was recently accepted into EMU's distance MS Coordinated Program in Dietetics. There have been so many different steps to get here, so I want to share in case others are online searching for ideas and information, like I always am. Also, I don't want to forget each challenge and how I made it through each step.
I thought I'd share my experience with how I have gone about figuring out how to gain volunteer experience. Part of the application to my desired program, required a certain number of hours of volunteer experience. Initially I wasn't sure how to go about getting volunteer experience being a distance student. I didn't have any local college affiliations or clubs associated with my school that I could reach out to - I am in California and my school is in Michigan!
During a live information session webinar, put on by the dietetics department, I asked about the volunteer experience requirement. What I found out about their requirement was that the required volunteer service was to inspire community service and involvement. I initially thought I had to volunteer directly under a RD, I found out I didn't; so after that information session I started searching for opportunities in my community related to health, food, or helping people. I also reached out to other dietetics students I found online to ask what kind of volunteer service they had done. I made a list of all of the various ideas for volunteering and started searching to see what I would be able to do in my particular situation. I am a stay at home mom who also works at home (at night) and does my schooling online at home and at the library (in the evenings). It doesn't leave a lot of free time to volunteer during the week! So the key for me was to find volunteer opportunities that I could fit into my schedule.
The first organization that I came across that had many different days and times available for volunteer work was our local food bank. I called them to find out if I could volunteer for a full day, which involved 3 different volunteer shifts and they said I could! I chose a Saturday and signed up immediately. This was a really great experience. We were shown around the food bank warehouse and they explained how many people they help and how much food comes in, both fresh fruits and vegetables along with non-parishable foods. That day I helped bag different fresh vegetables for that weeks community distribution events.
My son started going to preschool/daycare a couple days a week, so that has opened more days for me to find opportunities elsewhere. I met a girl, online, who goes to the same school that I do and lives somewhat locally to me. She shared some of the places she had volunteered. They weren't local to me but I found one that really spoke to me and I could sign up for times and days that worked with my new schedule. It was an after school program teaching elementary aged kids about vegetables. It was a blast! The organization is in Sacramento and it's called Food Literacy Center. They're doing some really great things and it's something I'll continue to volunteer with whenever I have time.
I also have one other experience I have been participating in for over a year, my online internship with the Nutrition Twins. I plan on talking about that particular experience in a post all its own. But I will say here that I found this opportunity through an organization called All Access Internships. If you are a student who is working to get into either a coordinated program or a dietetic internship and you haven't heard of them, go take a look. They have a lot of great free information. I signed up for their basic membership during one of their discounted specials and gained access to so many great documents that helped me in my applicaiton process. They also offer coaching sessions (at a cost), which I did not take advantage of, but I hear they're really good! They also have a private Facebook group, I am not big on Facebook so I didn't use this group, but I do know they often are contacted by working RD's who are looking for student help and post those opportunities there. I signed up for their newletter, this was how I heard about the Nutrition Twins opportunity.
If I can offer any advice when it comes to figuring out volunteer experience as a distance student, it would be to ask questions and think broad. Don't be afraid to ask the program directors or contacts to clarify what is expected. My particular school program is focused on business entrepreneurship, so volunteering under RD's, such as The Nutrition Twins, that had a private practice made a lot of sense. You might look for volunteer experiences that line up with your desired program or internship's focus. And think broad when it comes to community organizations that need volunteer services, I looked for organizations that were related to health, food and helping people. A few other ideas i had were Meals on Wheels and I reached out to the organization that works with school garden programs in my county. Volunteering in a hopsital was on the top of my list, but it wasn't something I could make work at the time. I also found the dietetics association in my area and joined.
The volunteer requirement was one of the more challenging aspects I came across in the applicaton process. But by thinking a little outside of the box and not being afraid to ask others about their experience I was able to successfully complete that requirement and came away from it with some really great volunteer experiences.
If you are reading this in search of information, I hope this in someway helps. Whether it directly helps or sparks a new train of thought, I'm hoping to pay the help I've received, from others along the way, forward.