I’ll admit to a bit of personal prejudice against large ship cruise vacations–and like most prejudice, my opinion is based entirely on ignorance. Never done it, doesn’t sound like my cup of tea (and of course, when I finally DO try a cruise, I’ll probably love it). Part of my unfounded resistance comes from the stereotype of spending all your waking hours by the pool or in line at a buffet, the monotony broken up only by shore excursions with hordes of ugly, uncouth tourists looking for souvenir t-shirts and burgers with fries as they snap flash photos of “colorful” locals–I’d sooner have a root canal. I know, of course, that the reality of cruising is a wide array of possible styles, clientele, and activity levels.
Crystal Cruises has just launched, for their 2011 season, a program I can really get behind, and one that helps me re-frame my bias. Their new You Care, We Care initiative creates volunteer shore excursions on every one of their cruise itineraries in 2011. Unlike so many shore excursions, these You Care, We Care experiences are complimentary for passengers who choose to participate. The goal is for clients, and cruise staffers as well, to have an authentic community experience in the communities visited on the itinerary. Some examples (more rolling out soon) are: working with children at a burn unit in Peru, doing craft projects or sports with the elderly or youth in Colombia, also in Colombia a chance to do urban organic farming, and a Mexico project in Puerto Vallarta where you work on beach cleanup and light construction at a green space. Helping local communities, with projects designed from WITHIN the communities, is a profound experience for us, and truly enhances travel.
So I’m ready to re-evaluate…if I can do some good work AND have a drink with a little umbrella in it when I get back on board…I can definitely increase my tolerance of other passengers in black socks, sandals, and Aloha shirts.
How about you? Are you in?
Today, July 26, is the 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability and mandates access to places of business.
What a great day to make sure that your own actions and attitudes (and those of your family) embrace all equally. It is also a great day to look into volunteering opportunities that give you a chance to work with the disabled. Here are a few options to get you started on your search:
Here is the volunteer opportunities page for Disabled American Veterans.
Match-Up pairs volunteers with seniors with disabilities.
Work and Volunteer Abroad has a whole category of international volunteering with those with disabilities.
Of course, there’s a section in my Frommer’s book, 500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference, dedicated to volunteering with people with disabilities.
The Adaptive Sports Center is one of many organizations around the country and world dedicated (with the help of hard working volunteers) to improving activity opportunities for the differently-abled.
Volunteer Match lets you type in your zip code to find volunteer opportunities near you—use the keyword “disabled” or similar to refine your search. Then cross-reference and compare those results with the ones you get from United We Serve (serve.gov).
Volunteer with Guide Dogs for the Blind or one of the many other organizations that trains service animals.
Don’t stop here–let this tiny scratching of the surface be a springboard. There is something near to your location (at home and/or while on vacation) and there is also something near to your heart. Go out and find it.
Have you spent much time on the website Bidding for Good? It’s the online charity auction website where you can find all sorts of items and “Shop for a Cause.” Yankees tickets, signed scripts from celebrities, walk-on roles for your favorite TV shows, the musical instruments used by famous bands, indulgent products and art and spa visits and you-name-it, and each supports a particular charity.
One of my favorite sub-sites run through Bidding for Good is that of The International Ecotourism Society (TIES). At their auctions you can find amazing travel deals and experiences at far less than market value, and the proceeds go toward TIES’ mission “to promote responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”
Offerings change all the time. For instance, right now there is a Nepal village homestay experience for six travelers for 6 days/5 nights, and the winning bid is $114. That’s nineteen dollars a piece for you and five friends to spend 6 days having a unique village experience in Nepal. Or the 3-day wildlife experience in Borneo that is listed, getting you up close to orangutans and Borneon Pygmy Elephants–so far there is no bid on that, so name your price!
It’s wild what’s available out there if you know where to look for your next adventure.
I just hung up the phone with my friend Simone, who is busting her hump helping charitable organizations devoted to several causes, and one of those nearest and dearest to her is in New Orleans. The St. Bernard Project works predominantly in St. Bernard, Plaquemines, and Orleans parishes, and has been responsible for building more homes for Katrina survivors than any other local, national, or international organization. In addition to being devoted to meeting the demand of those still trying to reclaim their lives from a disaster that happened years ago, the ST Bernard Project also focuses on a very important but little talked of side of the community work in regards to the Gulf Oil Spill.
The mental health of residents of the Gulf region is being attentively addressed by St. Bernard Project. They have a mental health center to address all sorts of issues. More than a quarter of residents of New Orleans and the region are estimated to have suffered/still suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after Hurricane Katrina, and the uncertainty about the magnitude of the oils spill disaster, combined with loss of livelihood and work, is expected to cause similar PTSD issues. Michelle Many, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Professor in LSU’s Department of Psychiatry, says that, “The recent oil spill has already brought a blow to the prolonged recovery from Katrina, and LSU clinicians report that residents are suffering from re-traumatization.” Shrimpers and fishermen who are predominantly self-employed and without medical insurance, cannot seek service from most mental health providers in the community–except St Bernard Project.
We know about going down to New Orleans (a thing I feel lucky and blessed to do whenever I can) and the larger Gulf region to help with beach cleanup and rehab, help clean oil from sea birds like in the dish detergent commercials, and also just go there on vacation and spend our tourist dollars in a region that is suffering from the absence of visitors…but the gentle care of the emotional health of the amazing people who have been twice-struck by enormous tragedy is truly worth your support.
Donate to support St Bernard Project here, or click here to find out more about volunteering when you are visiting. Just a day of your time can have a powerful impact.
OK–you’ve got it in your head and heart that you want to do a volunteer vacation. Traveling somewhere away from home and outside your normal circumstances (and likely outside your comfort zone) gets you jazzed and inspired. The planning can be a bit mundane, just like any travel planning and logisitics, but there are a few specialized services and organizations that can smooth your path.
Fly For Good has a volunteer travel portal that helps with planning, brainstorming, researching types of service work and/or destinations that excite you…and best of all…can find discounted flights for volunteers who are working with international NGOs or 501(c) 3 non-profit charitable organizations. Discounted travel for volunteers…It’s nice to get a little good back for all the good you’ll be doing, and anybody who makes it easier for us to make a difference in the world, is making a difference themselves, by empowering us. Have a look around just for mind candy or when you’re ready to do your actual planning.
The Fourth of July. Freedom, Liberty, Independence. As we celebrate all these things with the required explosives and overeating and hopefully a lot of laughter and love in your life…maybe a category for potential volunteering might suggest itself from the day’s theme. Or as the opposite of the day’s theme. As we laud all things free, have you considered that what may strike up your volunteering spirit (like striking up the band to hit it with the “Star Spangled Banner” one more time) would be working with prisoners and those who are incarcerated?
Jails and prisons make use of volunteers in so many ways, and your work can truly change the life of someone who doesn’t have the freedoms you enjoy today. Habitat for Humanity does Prison Partnership volunteering to get some of their most important house building projects done. So many prisons use volunteers from the community for workshops, lectures, re-entry training and job interview skills for rehabilitated prisoners, and more. San Quentin, for instance, has a spearheading program that is also in place among other prisons throughout California, called the California Re-Entry Program. California is not alone–volunteers do important work in the prison systems in pretty much every state and community, so surely there is an opportunity near you. PVS (Prisoner Visitiation System) tries to set up volunteer visitors to federal and military prisoners throughout the nation’s systems so those who don’t get contact might be able to reach out and be heard. This is a program bringing visitors in to Death Row, solitary confinement, and long-term/life sentence prisoners or others whose family/life circumstances might mean they don’t have regular visitors. The Prison Book Program stocks and staffs with volunteers, the libraries at prisons around the country. Prison Pet Partnerships does fantastic work with visiting dogs programs as well as pairing prisoners with dogs to train as guide and service dogs (there are plenty of other fantastic dog programs with youth in jails as well).
Here, randomly, are some more programs (and the links tot heir volunteer information pages)–I promise you can find one in your area if you’d like to be a prison volunteer: New Mexico Corrections Department, Pennsylvania Prison Society, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Tennessee Department of Correction, Chicago Books to Women in Prison, Arizona Department of Corrections.
Whether helping someone study for their GED or other schooling, ministering via your spiritual tradition, job training, life skills teaching, drama or writing or other arts programs, working with youth, volunteer visiting, animal visits and training, or that giant mountain of volunteer administrative support (especially as states cut back on budgets and employees), you can be of tremendous service to the prison system–a nice way to ponder freedom today, and tomorrow…
Ben Stiller is a smartass. We knew that–it’s why we love him. He is able to send up serious situations that bring levity while still being respectful (though not necessarily exhibiting outer respect). We see it in films and TV appearances, and I saw it when he hosted the final evening of last year’s Clinton Global Initiative. Sometimes we can’t believe we are laughing in light of such seriousness, being in the presence of majesty (literal and figurative) and victories over suffering and the face of so much suffering still to be vanquished–and there’s Ben, goofing on it all and on us. Well, he’s at it again–blessedly. He has launched a new foundation, STILLERSTRONG, and uses as a catch phrase “Stealing Great Ideas from Other Charities to Build Schools in Haiti.”
Stiller actually started his work before the January quake, inspired by a visit to Haiti in 2009. He has already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to build schools in the country, in partnership with Architecture for Humanity, Causecast, and the Global Philanthropy Group.
“Our goal is to help kids get back in school as quickly as possible,” said Stiller. “Schools are a safe haven for kids in times of crisis, and are instrumental in delivering not only education but also healthcare, nutrition and other critical services.”
I hope I’ll see Ben when I’m there building schools in August. Flashing a little Blue Steel. We are not on the same project, but have the same dream and goal for helping heal Haiti.