Archive for the ‘volunteer’ Category

National Parks 100th Birthday Volunteer

ranger leading family on tide pool exploration in National Park

Redwood National Park Tide Pool Tour with Ranger. Photo: NPS

2016 is the centennial of the National Park Service–the actual date of the birth of the countrywide system of great green and urban spaces, is August 25…but don’t wait to get outside and enjoy…and maybe give back a little while you’re at it.

I forget, in my hurried day-to-day life, that the wondrous wild places I so fondly remember visiting (and look forward to many more visits) on family vacations and cross-country driving trips, are more than just stunning vacation spots–they are smoothly run enterprises of commitment to community and culture and the environment…AND…they have extensive volunteer programs.

As a National Parks volunteer, you can pop in for a one-shot deal to help with a program, or if you’re lucky enough to live near such sacred spots, there are ongoing opportunities. Kids, families, individuals…all will find rewarding service work in the parks. If you’re super motivated, and volunteer 250 hours of service to the parks and/or other federal agencies that participate, you can be eligible for the Annual Volunteer Pass. This pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites. Each pass covers entrance fees at national parks and national wildlife refuges as well as standard amenity fees at national forests and grasslands, and at lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation.

To find your V.I.P. (Volunteers in Parks) opportunity, from Yellowstone to the Statue of Liberty, the Everglades to Mount Rainier, you can search by park, state, or zip code. Many of the needs are seasonal, but some are year-round, and while a certain level of fitness or endurance may be required for some gigs, there is plenty to volunteer for that requires less energy as well. Visit the Park Service website and look around a bit, get re-inspired for some next visit plans, and find a way to be the boots on the ground folks who keep the parks the treasures that they are.

For birthday bashes, here is a link to Centennial Programs happening all year. Don’t miss out take a picnic lunch with cake at the Grand Canyon or blow out candles before diving in the Channel Islands. There are more national parks than states in the nation of ours – find one near you or near where your next travel plans will lead. (Find Your Park link)

On Equal Pay Day Commit to Volunteering for Women

Today is Equal Pay Day, one of those oops-we’re-doing-it-wrong shake your head sorts of days…it is the day each year when a woman’s earnings from the year before would finally catch up to one year of a man’s earnings doing the same work.

Yep, still true, it takes until April for a woman to earn what a guy took home by last December. On average, full-time working women still only make about 79 cents to a dollar for a man (better than the 72 cents of a few years ago, but c’mon…really?)

The wage gap costs the average full-time working woman about $430,000 dollars over her lifetime. Here’s the perplexing other side of the coin, and I know we’re all ramped up about minimum wages and unskilled labor making more than military, and those are entirely separate issues (about which…surprise…I have some very specific views…) but if we CLOSE the wage gap, we could add as much as $4.3 trillion dollars to the U.S. economy by the year 2025.

Since that closing of the gap won’t happen today, in the meantime, while you add your name to this petition to stand up for equal pay, here are a few volunteer opportunities around the world that you might consider that are dedicated to equality for women:

Volunteer at Marine Mammal Care Center

seal pup close up

Photo: marinemammalcare.org

I had a wonderful experience this morning and want to share.

A couple of years ago I picked up a pamphlet for the Marine Mamma Care Center at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, CA. I stuffed it into the ever-growing pile of information I always grab up about possible volunteer opportunities to explore and share, and sadly, I sort of forgot about it.

I recently randomly checked out their website and found their WISH LIST for needed donation items, and realized we had some things that would go to great use for them, and support the animals they rescue and rehabilitate.

Those animals are the all-too-many seals and sea lions that are stranded along the Los Angeles coastline. The MMCC functions as a hospital for sick and injured marine mammals and it is a great program serving a huge need.

With El Nino weather conditions, we tend to think of it just happening this year with some storms finally bringing much needed rain, but ocean water temperatures have been warmer than usual–an El Nino condition–for a couple of years. The warmer water creates some crisis conditions for seals and sea lions. The fish they usually feed on close to the coast are being driven farther out and deeper down, since they cannot thrive in the warmer ocean water. This means that mother pinnipeds (the center mostly treats California sea lions, northern elephant seals, Pacific harbor seals, and northern fur seals) have to go away to forage farther and for longer periods of time to find enough food to sustain themselves and produce milk for their babies. The pups are left on beaches for too long while adults search, sometimes orphaned, often malnourished. When a pup can no longer sustain itself and is starving, Animal Control or other agencies brings them to MMCC for care. Additionally, fishing line, nets, and other injurious human interactions take their toll.

An average year sees about 350 patients at the center…the past two years have exceeded 700. It’s a big deal and a big job.

I love this place. Some of the many animals, both young and mature, are frolicking like you’d hope, slipping in and out of pools of water, barking, feeding–these are getting close to being released back into the ocean. Others are newly arrived, in a quiet zone, while some pretty intensive care is administered trying to nurse them back to health and viability. With as much struggle as these little guys and gals go through, I expected a pretty somber mortality rate, but surprisingly they lose only a few. A few more are deemed unreleasable and find homes at aquariums and other facilities (all of the disposition is handled by the US Government…where, when, how many get transferred to which places).

If you’re local to the Los Angeles area and are looking for a rewarding volunteer gig, check out the opportunities, from docents educating children and adult guests and field trip classes, to folks doing animal husbandry in the back and keeping things clean and running smoothly, there is always a need for more big-hearted volunteers. I suspect it can be tough work, but I bet you, like me, won’t be able to wipe the smile off your face. If you’re local or traveling to the L.A. region and want to visit to learn more about the several species under their care and see them, there are educational docents there to show you around and answer all your questions from 10am to 4pm, and they are open 365 days a year. Check them out, support their work, and you too, will have a perma-grin.

Voluntourism, Killer Whales, and SeaWorld’s Tilikum

adult and young orcas in wild

Photo: Christopher Michel – CC License

You’ve likely seen, or at least heard about the documentary Blackfish, exploring the life and striving times of captive killer whales, or orcas, at SeaWorld marine parks. While SeaWorld has been goaded by the resulting uproar into some changes in planned habitat restructuring and living conditions for their largest resident animals, there are many who feel captive orcas can never be appropriate.

The main storyline of the film focuses on a particular whale named Tilikum. This 35-year-old cetacean over-earned the “killer” moniker by being responsible for the deaths of three people while in captivity for more than two decades. Now, SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida has announced that Tilikum has an infection from which he will not recover, and he is in declining health. It’s a rough life in a cement pool too small for comfort, no matter how attentive the care (and, to be fair, SeaWorld’s staff caretakers and medics are dedicated and skilled animal lovers) and many believe it has been tantamount to torturing the whale for the majority of his life.

The flip side of this difficult coin is the marine study of orcas in their natural habitat, like this brand new volunteer expedition from Earthwatch: Killer Whales and Their Prey in Iceland. The first of several offerings of this 12-day voluntourism service trip is offered in June of 2017, where you will help study the feeding behavior of orcas in Vestmannaeyjar in the Westman Islands in the south of Iceland. Some of your time will be on shore, some on boats, as you scan for whales and take detailed scientific research notes on behavior of individual whales. You’ll be thoroughly trained and also get up close and personal as you assist the scientist research team to collect small (non-harming) skin and blubber samples from whales to biopsy and record diet, pollutant levels, and genetic information. You’ll be living at the research field station in dormitory accommodations, cooking and sharing time and laughs with your fellow volunteers.

This is a leading study of the species, and, like all Earthwatch volunteer opportunities, the work you do actually advances scientific understanding–this work, in particular, will help establish policies to better protect killer whales.

Make a Difference Day – Here’s What You’re Up to Tomorrow

Got plans this weekend? Add something more. Tomorrow, Saturday, October 24, is Make a Difference Day. Million of folks just like us are committing part of their Saturday to improving the lives of others through volunteering. This particular day of service has been going on for 24 years, and it is the single largest national day dedicated to volunteering.

So here is why you can jump in without having a ton of advance planning, research, or particular skills. The Make a Difference Day website aligns you with you passion and/or your place. Just enter your zip code and find projects all around you that are asking for your help. You can check out all the projects that are geographically convenient for you, and refine your search based on the kind of project that inspires you most. Are you looking to add a little sweat equity to an organization focused on disaster relief? Homelessness? Animal rescue? Education? Veteran’s issues? You decide. It is the drum I always beat–there is a perfect fit volunteering gig out there waiting for you, you just may not know it yet. Use this weekend for discovery! For every social good passion there is a project, probably TONS of projects, needing your exact skills, and/or willingness to learn, at the exact time you have to offer. Your biggest hurdle is just showing up.

So this weekend (there are highlight events both Saturday and Sunday across the nation), between the other things you’ve got on the docket, give some time to the world around you. There’s a whole category of activities appropriate to families and kids if that’s your situation. Make a Difference Day is every day, of course, but show up this weekend in particular. It’s a movement you want a piece of, and you want others to see how easy it was for you to act upon your inspiration.

Travelocity Doubles Down to Support Voluntourism

From my second post-earthquake voluntourism trip to Haiti in 2012

From my second post-earthquake voluntourism trip to Haiti in 2012

I loved the news that Travelocity is re-invigorating their commitment to voluntourism, making service travel desirable, and even in some lucky folks’ cases, available and accessible.

The company’s Travel for Good portal is bringing welcome eyeballs to the concept of voluntourism, a travel category that bloggers had been piling on lately, accusing heartfelt service travel seekers of being motivated by wealthy guilt or savior complexes, or just being spoiled rich kids. So misguided, jaded, and wrong—truly frustrating that they don’t recognize what’s going on out there in the real world, where more and more people are making significant differences every day.

With the travel category’s popularity has come the next wave of hucksters trying to rip well meaning folks off or get high fees paid to line their pockets, but that’s not new to the tourism world. I always heartily suggest would-be voluntourists ask lots of questions, talk to previous clients, and have crystal clarity about who initiated the project and why (projects should be generated by the community served, not outside agencies who are not fluent in the nuances of a community’s needs).

The Travel for Good program also brings a web-sticky element of competition into the mix, with a social media contest giving away travel expenses and donations to causes for contest winners.

Go explore. Let your imagination run wild about ways you can help. Enter the contest

and win an amazing voluntourism trip! For just about every cause you can imagine, there is a way to get involved to really help. Every step you make toward creating a more workable world is significant.

Reality Tours Open Eyes Around the World

Haiti Capital 2010

Haitian capital post-quake 2010

This travel company was recently brought to my attention, and I’m loving them: Global Exchange.

Their Reality Tours take clients to rich and intriguing destinations we might not even know we need to add to our bucket lists. North Korea, Afghanistan, Rebuilding Nepal, Iran (all places I would LOVE to go) and so many more, but the genuinely exciting part is the context in which you travel. To explore and discover human rights causes, or sustainability efforts, or post-disaster recovery, or food scarcity programs, women’s rights—it is issue-based travel and connection.

The company’s tag line is: “…an international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic, and environmental justice around the world.” Their experiential education excursions connect deeply to communities and issues, and help make a real difference while fostering true understanding far more deeply than the levels we glean from most media. Over 100 trips a year to 40 destinations means you can absolutely find a trip that is meaningful and supports the issues about which you are passionate.

In addition to travel opportunities, their robust website offers plenty of other ways to get involved (including great “5-Minute Actions“), events, thoughtful blogs from past participants, and other programs. Go explore. Fair warning, you may disappear down the rabbit hole of intrigue the way I did, fantasizing about my next opportunity for impact travel.