uxorialMay 24, 2006

I'm interested in hearing about what kind of volunteering other forum members have been or are involved with. I never volunteered much until about 3 1/2 years ago, when I became a Master Gardener. But rather than work in the county extension office like most Master Gardeners, I chose to prepare the monthly newsletter and to write articles for the local MG web site. I spent an average of 20 hours each month on those activities until last month, when I sort of resigned from the Master Gardeners. I may still volunteer at a few events now and then, just not the "every month this has to be done by a certain day" commitment.

I have some time on my hands and would like to find another volunteer activity (besides this forum!). But I don't know what opportunities are available or how to go about finding them. And there are "restrictions" on the type of volunteering I'd want to do. I'm not interested in working with kids, the elderly, or disabled people (I just don't have the patience, experience, skills, or desire), I don't want it to be affiliated with any type of church or political organization, and I don't want to travel more than 40 miles once or twice a week.

Anybody have any suggestions or want to share their own volunteering experiences (good or bad)?

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I've been: Volunteer firefighter -My fave and a total blast, though at my age now (late 50's) out of the question from the standpoint of physical energy. I suppose I could go back and do fundraising for them or do Fire Police, but it's not the same.

Volunteer EMT: I did it because we didn't have day time EMT's in my area, but I didn't really enjoy it and gladly let my certification lapse.

American Red Cross: Local office disaster assistance and military assistance. Fun but constant hassle between paid staff and the volunteers they were supposed to be supporting.

Local government watch dog: Boring mostly, but occasionally fun, but only if you like following the ins and outs of a small town.

Environmental work projects: Short term, but sometimes hard physical labor.

Work on political campaigns: Exciting, fairly short term commitment but time-intense and sort of like gambling, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose!

I used to like joining more than I do now. Lately I've had more satisfaction from just private one-off projects where I see a need, figure out what to do and see it through. I've done roadside & stream clean-ups; social service for a local family falling through the cracks; public landscaping (I plant, I care for); sorted out all the out of order, mis-filed maps in my county archives.

I am thinking, though, of volunteering to become a CASA/Guardian at Litem for children in foster care.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2006 at 2:19PM
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Adult literacy project?

Working for victims of domestic violence or the homeless?

Reading for the blind?

    Bookmark   May 24, 2006 at 3:01PM
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I am a senior peer counselor with our local Alliance on Aging. Here's a thread I did over in CareGiving about my training. I love it!

Here is a link that might be useful: training program

    Bookmark   May 24, 2006 at 3:58PM
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Your local library may utilize volunteers, as well as your local schools (does HS age qualify as a kid - lol?). Assistance is always needed with the drama club, marching band, chorus, hanging art work or even doing some copying for a teacher or specialist.

I'd start by phoning your town or city hall or searching your community newsletter/paper. Lots of times there's local 'projects' going on and they're always looking for new blood.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2006 at 6:09PM
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I've never volunteered as my time is precious to me, but I'm happy to report that I just recently signed up to sponsor a little girl from the Appalachians. I give to various charities, but it's so nice to see how you can personally affect one individual.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2006 at 7:32PM
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wooderlander mentioned this already, and I *heartily* second it: adult literacy or ESL (there's more ESL up in our neck of the woods) is *extremely* rewarding, IMO. It made me change my career, actually. I went into it back in NYC just to be making more of a difference than my career was enabling, and ended up finding a completely fulfilling passion, incredible ongoing learning opportunities, and a wonderful community.

There's not so much native-language-adult-literacy around here, though, but there's *lots* of ESL. I can give you more biased advice if you want about which kinds of programs to volunteer with, if you decide to try it :). The kind of program matters a lot.

Another really great opportunity around here is the number of *environmental* organizations that are very active. You can be involved as much or as little as you want. Are there any Riverkeeper organizations up by you? I'm thinking of at least two I'd be involved with if I had the time down here.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2006 at 9:53PM
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What about becoming a zoo volunteer (smiling faces all day) or volunteer at your local botanical garden since you enjoy some aspects of gardening.

Historical sites and museums look for volunteers. "Welcome to our state" rest stops at the gateway to each state allows you to assist travelers with information.

Many non-profits look for new board members and people to sit on fundraising event committees, especially if you are creative or well-connected. These committees are fun in and of themselves, whether you are selling ads or signs or working on the infrastructure of the event. It beings you together with other volunteers in a social way.

Provide rides to treatment for chemo/radiation patients through local ACS chapters (only some of them will be elderly, but they will all appreciate you).

Are you crafty? Knit? Quilt? Many organizations raise funds through hand-crafted good sold at fairs or craft festivals. Cancer centers welcome knitted hats and caps or afghans to warm the heads or laps of chemo patients.

The toughest dollars for non-profits to raise are for operating expenses. Volunteer to do grant writing or general office work to support/reduce the needed hours for paid staff. From shredding old documents to filing to answering the phones, your help is appreciated in so many places.

Since you are good at writing, perhaps writing the newsletter for a different kind of non-profit might be less pressured with deadlines. Starting up one for the local animal shelter or another small charity that is not already being published.

Hospital gift shops welcome volunteers. Many other areas of the hospital have volunteer opportunities - check out the web site of one near you.

Google community organizations or your local volunteer center to see what the needs are; you may be pleasantly surprised.

I once lived in a very small town, where the local post office had terrible, scraggly plantings in the small beds along the parking lot. I always wanted to go in at 5 am one weekend and re-landscape the area as a surprise gift - never had a chance before I moved! Maybe that would have been illegal, but the poor plantings had been neglected for years.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2006 at 11:34PM
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I am so glad you posted this. I am saving this thread for myself for ideas. Like you I am not in a position right now to offer a set amount of time.

In your case I would call organizations that appeal to you and let them know you are willing to offer your time. I would also let them know that you are a Master Gardener. Perhaps you could be useful at Ronald McDonald houses or hospice or nursing homes as a gardener. That way you would not have to interact with the clients and would be doing something you love.

Another thought is working with an animal shelter organization or rescue. There are some great ladies in my area that feed the feral cats and capture them to spay and return. I know some places look for people to just spend time with the animals so they will be easier to adopt.

You could also raise money doing the walks or runs for charities that offer them. I do the March of Dimes.

Someone mentioned enviromental causes as well. That could also tie it with your skills.

In my area there are a few places - Old Westbury Gardens and Planting Fields that utilize volunteers. Museums are another idea.

Short story - my aunt and uncle donated to Lighthouse for the Blind for many many years. No reason. Didn't know anybody who was blind. My uncle is passed now and my aunt now has MD and is going blind and uses their services and products.

Pay it Forward.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2006 at 11:53PM
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some great ideas! one thought about working with animal rescue or shelter--I knew someone very sweet (a TKOer, actually, but she's done now and doesn't come around anymore) who said she had volunteered in an animal shelter and she came home just emotionally *wrung out* and crying from all the animals she'd gotten to know and given her heart to and then saw get killed, and the stories she heard every day of animal cruelty. So you want to make sure of what kind of shelter and what your activities would be. Capturing ferals to spay and return would be very different, I imagine, although the condition of some ferals can just break your heart too.

I forgot another one when I wrote: homeless shelters/transition organizations/food banks. There are many *working poor families* who can disappear from people's perception because they may not be single men right out on city streets at busy intersections. Many groups that work with these folks are religious, but some aren't.

Anyway, just another idea. Wouldn't have to be direct interaction; help is appreciated anywhere in non-profits :)

    Bookmark   May 25, 2006 at 12:11AM
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Anna - apologies for repeating some of your suggestions. I had my post "open" for a while.

Fly, you are right about the animals. So sad. That is exactly what happened to one of the ladies I knew. The place had a gas chamber - she had to leave. BUT, she lobbyed them until they did away with it! Of course, she now has about 20 cats and 8 dogs in her home.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2006 at 8:58AM
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I have volunteered for a no-kill shelter, but then my time became very limited. So until my time frees up some more I am involved with the feral cat group. I also give time to do local environmental work projects.

I would suggest that you decide where your passions lie. Obviously mine are with the animals and the environment. This is where I gain my greatest sense of achievement and purpose. If I am unable to be in the shelter physically for a long time, I call around to the local shelters and find out what their needs are and then will host a party requesting donations of dog/cat items that I will then distribute. My mother and I have gathered supplies for animals whose owners are homeless (you wouldn't believe how many there are!) and have spent hours making catnip toys and small fleece blankets for the shelter cats at X-mas. Find out where your passions are and what will give you the greatest sense of achievement and go from there.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2006 at 9:31AM
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My volunterring has always had to do with kids, either as a scout leader, or for many years coaching little league baseball. I'm seriously contimplating getting involved in another volunteer position right now, having to do with kids. If I do, though, it'll severely curtail my time in the forums, even though it means getting involved in still ANOTHER forum, albeit one of an entirely different kind.

I don't know how many of you have seen NBC's Dateline: To Catch a Predator series, but they work in conjunction with local police and an online site called www.pervertedjustice.com to catch pedafiles stalking young kids on line, and I've been to the site, and they're looking for volunteers to spend time on their site forum to learn the ropes, and then possibly be trained to catch these scumbags.

If there's ANYTHING in this life I hate more than anything else, it's people who target young kids in ANY way, and as much as I enjoy helping out in the forums with this kind of stuff, I feel like this is much more important.

So, if all of the sudden I start showing up less and less in here, you'll know why. :-)

    Bookmark   May 25, 2006 at 9:59AM
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Wow! I'm overwhelmed by so many outstanding suggestions!

housekeeping: I'm so thankful for folks like you who have been or are volunteer firefighters or EMTs. I would never have the stamina or guts to do that though. I've thought about Red Cross, but have also heard similar things about political nonsense (and have encountered that within the Master Gardeners too). I've also thought about getting involved with local issues and/or politics, but overall those kinds of things bore me, and I tend to be more of a "can't see it from my house" rather than a "not in my back yard" kind of person. Your experience is so varied! I would have never thought of organizing maps in county archives. Thanks for all your suggestions.

wooderlander: I have considered adult literacy, and plan to look into that further. I don't think getting involved with domestic violence or the homeless is for me, though. Hits to close to home, IYKWIM. Reading for the blind may be fun though; never thought of that. Do you read directly to the people or just into a tape recorder?

fairegold: Sounds like you are doing a wonderful service for Alliance on Aging. I have the utmost admiration for anyone who is a caregiver of any kind. I'm afraid I just couldn't handle the heartache though.

paulines: Great ideas! Thanks! I didn't realize that schools used volunteers, so I'll check that out. (High school kids would be fine, I'm just not the right person to deal with youngsters.)

chiefneil: You're so right--one person can definitely make a difference. Thanks for your response and good luck with your new friend.

flyleft: Adult literacy is definitely near the top of my list. My main reservation is that I'd really rather not work with ESL learners. I did a stint in college at the Engineering Writing Center as a tutor for engineering students, and most of the students who needed help spoke English as their second language. I found it very frustrating and did it for only one quarter (10 weeks). I would very much like to hear your biased advice about the kinds of programs. Please email me! Your other suggestion about environmental organizations is hitting home as well. I've thought about doing trail maintenance or something similar, but then I think, sheesh, if DH finds out I'm whacking blackberries elsewhere instead of on our property he'll be really PO'd! But now that he's so into bass fishing, perhaps he'd be interested in doing river cleanup with me. What has your experience been regarding the political bent of NGOs and other environmental groups? They seem to be kind of "radical" at times, which I'd like to avoid.

annaleef: So many good ideas!! Unfortunately, many of the places you mention are just too far from my home. I live in a rural area almost 8 miles from the nearest grocery store. The zoo is a 40-minute drive in horrible traffic, as are most museums. There is a historical site in Vancouver, and I've thought about volunteering at their gardens through the Master Gardeners. It's funny you mentioned grant writing--one of my Master Gardener friends was trying to get me involved with it a few months ago. I seriously considered it, and I know I'd be good at it (having prepared proposals for 4 years), but it just seemed like a lot of legwork at the library to find funding sources. Now, if the organization would provide all the info I need to write the grant, that would be different. Maybe I should look into that more. I've heard it can be very lucrative! There are many fundraising opportunities with the Master Gardeners, but I've been avoiding them mostly for "political" reasons. You've given me a lot of good ideas for ways I can help by being on the "fringes" rather than dealing with people or issues directly. Thanks so much for your thoughtful response.

maggie: Working with animals is high on my list, although, like flyleft said, I am afraid that I'd come home in tears every day if I worked at a shelter (or I'd come home with animals!). That's the reason why I can't work with sick kids, homeless people, battered spouses, or the elderly--I get too emotionally attached. I'll look into your idea of doing volunteer gardening at nursing homes or similar places. After I get my own garden done, of course. ;-)

berlin66: You're so right--I do need to decide where my passions lie. I've always been interested in animals and the environment, so I have a feeling I'll end up in one of those areas in some capacity.

billV: I agree that catching scumbags is much more important than giving tiling advice! (But I hope we still see you around!) While I'd very much like to help out with such a program, I'm paranoid that one of the scumbags would find out where I live.

Thanks again everyone for your responses. I greatly appreciate it!


    Bookmark   May 25, 2006 at 11:50AM
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As a Master Gardener you might like volunteering for Garden Raised Bounty. There seems to be a number of ways to contribute; each with various amounts of time. Also, you might want to contact you county or city planning department. Many economically depressed areas sponser "beautification" projects that are "one-time" time donations. Good luck finding your way!

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden Rasied Bounty

    Bookmark   May 25, 2006 at 12:44PM
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While I'd very much like to help out with such a program, I'm paranoid that one of the scumbags would find out where I live.

It doesn't scare me at all. I learned a long time ago-- if it's your time to go, you're gonna go. If it's not, you're not going anywhere. Besides-- I'm told I can be pretty intimidating. I can't see it, but that's what I'm told. :-)

    Bookmark   May 25, 2006 at 11:31PM
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