Volunteers provide many benefits to both themselves and others by using their time, energy and resources to help better the lives of others in myriad ways. Volunteers come from all walks of life, and while this provides a rich variety of personalities and strengths within an organization, it also proves challenging in some circumstances. One such example of this is the potential volunteer with a criminal record. While a criminal record does not automatically disqualify you from volunteering in many ways for numerous organizations, some volunteer opportunities will not be open to you, depending on the details of your criminal history.
Study your background information for yourself to understand what volunteer organizations will see when they request information on you. Start by obtaining your free annual credit report by visiting the Federal Trade Commission website. Contact your state Department of Justice or the Federal Bureau of Investigation to obtain your criminal records.
Approach possible volunteer opportunities in an open and honest fashion. Many organizations depend on volunteers to keep their operations running without large cash expenditures. They appreciate people who are willing to volunteer their time and talents for that purpose. An organization may work with you to find a suitable position for you if they understand the situation thoroughly.
Seek volunteer opportunities other than those revolving around children and the elderly. These positions require careful consideration and client protection by the organizations providing these opportunities. Federal laws such as the Volunteers for Children Act of 1998 apply volunteers working with youth, allowing organizations to check the criminal record of potential volunteers. Additional state laws may also address these areas.
Visit the websites of organizations in which you hope to volunteer and examine their volunteer policies and screening procedures. Some organizations use different criteria for different volunteer positions depending on the specific duties involved.
- Consider whether your past criminal record makes you an especially good candidate for working as a volunteer with specific groups. Check with mental health clinics and religious organizations in your community for volunteer positions with group therapy patients, recovery groups or mentoring opportunities for people who have had experiences similar to your own.
- Protect yourself when looking for volunteer opportunities. Even if an organization allows you to perform certain volunteer duties, do not do so if it might compromise you. For instance, if probation or parole requirements state that you are not to use a computer with Internet access, ensure that you do not do so even occasionally in your volunteer position. Stay out of any situations where your intent or actions might be suspect due to your background to avoid future legal issues.
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