Ben Burton can’t imagine what it’d be like to stop volunteering in his community. Believing in the importance of getting involved and giving back, Burton has volunteered in some capacity since he was a teenager.
“I’ve always grown up with the belief that if things were going to be made better, I was going to have to take a hand in doing that,” said Burton, a communication specialist at Navex Global. “Volunteering is just a continuation of this belief I’ve had since I was a kid.”
After decades of running his own fundraisers and sporadically volunteering, Burton said he was searching for organized volunteer opportunities to join when he heard about United Way’s Hands On Charlotte. One of his friends went through the nonprofit’s volunteer orientation, and Burton decided to sign himself up, too.
Hands On Charlotte provides group and individual volunteer opportunities across the Charlotte region, from sorting clothes and food to building playgrounds. People can choose projects based on their interests and at times that are convenient to them.
“Hands On Charlotte has so many diverse projects that you can get involved with,” Burton said. “It’s the most flexible of any of the nonprofits I’ve seen in Charlotte.”
Through Hands On Charlotte, Burton has tutored at Central Piedmont Community College and helped with tasks at Crisis Assistance Ministry. Although he has volunteered in a variety of ways, one Hands On Charlotte opportunity that has stuck with him is spending time at The Relatives, a United Way community partner that helps children and youth find shelter and support.
Over the past four years, Burton has joined other volunteers who make weekly visits at The Relatives. A kid at heart, he said he relates to the youth by dressing casually and not taking everything too seriously.
“We play a lot of basketball with them and tell a lot of bad jokes,” Burton said. “I generally try not to go in there with a plan or set agenda of what we’re going to do because I really want them to be kids for a while.”
Burton also helps the youth with homework when needed and assists with supervised trips to play at the park or enjoy ice cream. The experience has allowed him to build relationships with the youth and staff at The Relatives, as well as with fellow volunteers.
“With a lot of the volunteers, I’d have never met these people on the street or run into them,” he said.
In 2015, Burton started filling a larger role when he became one of three volunteer leaders at The Relatives after going through Hands On Charlotte’s volunteer leader training.
“I think sometimes people get discouraged when they want to go out and make a positive impact because they think, ‘I’m just one person, what am I going to do?’ But there are hundreds of volunteers out there fighting the same fight that you are,” Burton said.