Posts Tagged ‘volunteer’

Your Kids Are (Probably) Not Too Young to Volunteer!

preschool  kidsSure, if still toddling or in diapers, maybe they are more of a ride-along while you get engaged in service, however, if your kids are the age where following directions is a thing, then volunteering can be a thing, too!

While many organizations don’t start making formal use of energetic volunteers until age 8 or older, you can always search for “family-friendly” opportunities to get involved together. Here are a few places to start an online search for just the right project for you and yours.

Children and education, kids and girls reading book in park

  • All for Good (allforgood.org) is a digital hub for volunteerism and community engagement. Find youth-engaging projects in your area by zip code.

 

  • Do Something (dosomething.org) will get kids involved with other kids making a difference—millions of young people in a global movement for good.

 

  • Generation On (generationon.org) provides programs, tools, and resources to engage kids and teens in service and volunteering.

 

  • One More Generation (onemoregeneration.org) was created by kids for kids to get kids involved in conservation and endangered species projects.

 

  • Volunteer.gov (www.volunteer.gov) is the federal program for volunteers to find ways to work on cultural and environmental resource projects. Use the “Family” filter in your search.

 

  • VolunteerMatch (volunteermatch.org) is the largest network in the non-profit world. Search for volunteer opportunities by zip code, kind of work, and add the filter “Kids” or “Teens” to get everyone involved.

National Parks are Free on Sunday (and You can Volunteer, too)

gert-boers-qQC8tyG_JVA-unsplashWhatcha doin’ this weekend? If it’s your last weekend before school, or your kids already have a couple weeks of Academia under their belts, or kids have nothing to do with it, getting outside is always a good option.

Sunday, August 25, is the 103rdbirthday of the National Park Service, and to celebrate, admission to all National Parks is free.

What an idyllic time to explore and enjoy our countrywide system of great green and urban spaces …and maybe give back a little while you’re at it.

I tend to 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 drives, are more than just stunning vacation spots–they are smoothly-run enterprises of commitment to community, 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.

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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 cost-free 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 one of the boots on the ground folks who keep the parks the treasures that they are.

Don’t miss out take a picnic lunch at the Grand Canyon or search family names at Ellis Island. There are more national parks than states in the country of ours – find one near you or near where your next travel plans will lead. (Find Your Park link)

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Later this year, there are a couple more free days at the parks, September 28 and November 11. Make them all red-letter dates in your calendar.

Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter’s Anniversary – 73 Years in Service

Carter Visits Peleliu

President Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn Carter have been married 73 years today. That’s a big long run, and a testament to willingness to discover fresh opportunities together.

Since his presidency, Carter has flourished for many years as a statesman and powerhouse in the charitable world. If you were so inclined, you could get involved in some volunteer opportunities driven by Carter.

Most of us have heard of Habitat for Humanity, the non-profit home building organization founded in 1976 and now working in all 50 states as well as more than 70 other countries, helping more than 22 million people so far. Jimmy and Rosalynn got involved early and rocketed awareness of Habitat with their ongoing work swinging hammers and building homes. Together with legions of volunteers (not requiring special skills, so any of us can get involved), they help families achieve strength, stability, and independence through safe, decent, and affordable shelter. Pop in your zip code to find your local Habitat here. You’ll find travel and build opportunities if you want to get busy on a volunteer vacation, women build options, programs specific to veterans, youth programs, college challenges, and emergency programs in disaster areas. At the end of a day volunteering, raising a wall on a new home or handing over the keys where a family can now make memories is the kind of payback we all crave.

Another of Carter’s major organizations is The Elders.

This auspicious group has been working since 2007  a group of global leaders, brought together originally by Nelson Mandela, to offer their influence and wisdom to the process of peace building and to address human suffering. In addition to Jimmy Carter, Ban Ki-moon, Graca Machel, Desmond Tutu, and Mary Robinson are a few others of the elders. The group was gathered and launched by Sir Richard Branson and Peter Gabriel.

There are so few cultures that still revere the wisdom that comes with age, the life spirit and lessons passed down through generations–it’s almost as if we move too quickly and are so desperate to reinvent and improve that we end up re-inventing the wheel instead of building upon the knowledge of those who have gone before us. What a loss.

The Elders focus on international rights issues and take on new challenges as they arise. Their collective plate is currently full with initiatives focused on: ethical leadership and multilateral cooperation; climate change, universal health, access to justice, conflict countries and regions, and refugees and migration.

Big, heady issues. Big heads taking them on. When was the last time you reached out to the generation before yours for guidance? Your parents, aunts and uncles, neighbors, family friends, business mentors, or anyone older needn’t be a world leader to have incredible gifts of wisdom that are yours for the asking.

What Would Jimmy Do?

Comfort and Joy for the Fourth of July

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If you have pets or have ever lived with household animals, you already know the terror that neighborhood fireworks instill in the hearts of dogs and cats. With no way for us to explain our pyrotechnic traditions, and their heightened, excellent hearing, how could they imagine anything other than the end of the world? It is the number one day for runaways, and breaking down fences and leaping over gates that the rest of the year prove secure borders is not uncommon.

Think, now, of the huge numbers of dogs and cats in animal shelters around the country. Most don’t have overnight staff. Come the night of July Fourth, explosions rock the neighborhoods where they are kenneled, already stressed out by the living conditions, and you’ve got a recipe for true misery.

If you’ve got the night off and don’t have plans to be at someone’s barbecue, or spreading your picnic blanket on the golf course to watch fireworks…if you are more likely to be home…AND you don’t have your own animals that you have to comfort as they quake, consider volunteering at your local animal shelter to comfort some pups. Several facilities have programs for this particular night, “Calm the Canines” initiatives just for the peak hours of most municipal fireworks shows (dusk until 10:00pm or so). Check with your local shelter. (Try an internet search for “Fourth of July Animal Shelter Volunteer” or “Volunteer with dogs July 4” or similar–loads of results will pop up)

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They might be playing soft music, volunteers may be talking and cooing, sitting on the floor, reading softly, distracting animals with special treats, and giving tons fo pets and cuddles. Some shelters will even have programs set up for one-night fostering of a dog, taking it asa guest pet to your own home to calm and comfort it during this night of decibels and terror.

Of course, if you fall in love with the adoptable pet you’ve been petting through its panic–all the better–adopting a rescue is a brilliant outcome! Another win/win situation is if you come away from your one-night volunteer gig impressed enough to offer volunteer help other times throughout the year. The animals need you.

Praise vs. Thanks

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I’ve been wondering lately how clearly we hold the distinction between Praise and Thanks. Do we really know the difference? Does one of them, or the anticipation of receiving one, drive us more than another?

I’ve just returned from a 10-day exhausting and overwhelmingly fulfilling volunteer gig working with burn-injured children (Champ Camp of the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation—it’s the largest and longest-running burn camp in the nation—reach out and I’ll tell you every little thing about it—you want to be a part of this, I promise)…and on the long drive home from the hot dusty foothills of Fresno, I reflected back on the week-and-a-half.

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I received a LOT of thanks for my work. I was often embarrassed, because it felt like praise and I, like so many of us, duck and deflect compliments…but I never want to avoid a thank you. A thank you deserves to be heard, received, and responded to (but NOT with that horrific reply “No problem”—Ooof how I want to thwack the head of every damn waiter and barista and service person who replies to “Thank you” with “No problem”…but that’s a rant for another day) with some grace. I also gave a lot of thanks to my fellow volunteers, not to slap them on the back as if to say, “Good on ya” but because I was (am) genuinely thankful for their hard and important work. It gets blurry in my own head which is which, but I know that praise is not important, gratitude expressed IS important.

If we functioned in a vacuum, with no one to witness our good deeds and service as volunteers, how much of this hard work would we still perform? I don’t mean to suggest that we do it selfishly to polish our halos and gain recognition for our selflessness—most of us are legit pretty darned selfless—there are MUCH easier ways to garner praise. If, however, we did a good deed in the forest and no one was there to hear it, might we just walk on by? Probably, at least some of the time. That’s hard for me to wrap my head around for my own self-image, but I think it is authentic.

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I wipe down the public restroom sink because I believe I should, not because someone is watching. I pick up the litter because it offends my sensibility to see it there, not because someone will clap for me. Those are tiny expressions. Will I, however, commit a week and a half to 24-hour-a-day service if I don’t get to humble brag about it on social media? Wow—I sure hope so. I have no sense of an audience for my service when I am in the midst of it all, but if I’m being honest, I sure do want you to notice afterward.

It’s not a peg on which everyone hangs their reputation, but the “being of service” thing is very much a part of who I am and who I say I will always be. How much of that is to feed my ego? I’m not sure. I’m probably being hard on myself with sleep deprivation and laundry and re-entry making my brain swirl. In the long run, what matters is that the good work is done and done well. If you volunteer because a spouse or parent or someone pressures you into it, or so you can include it on a resume or college app, or to get extra credit, does that matter? I say no. Do the work anyway. Sweat the sweat. Cry the tears. Laugh the belly laughs. Hug until it hurts. You might get some praise—big deal—but you WILL get thanks, and that IS a big deal.

If you listen closely, you’ll hear the most important thanks is coming from you.

That seems like a trite statement but it is everything.

How Will You Spend Your MLK Day of Service?

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Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr has offered more quotable quotes to the zeitgeist than a boatload of news channel pundits, politicians, or presidents–perhaps because his public time in the spotlight was focused on realizing a greater future for all–a sentiment in shorter supply, today,than is healthy for us, I think. One of my favorites of his messages is…

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Today, many of us have a holiday from work, but it is not the Martin Luther King holiday we celebrate, rather the Martin Luther King Day of Service, a time to take a day ON instead of a day off. You should serve yourself as well–sleep in a bit, take some downtime to relax. Absolutely bask in rare extra hours with your family…won’t it be even more memorable if you, as a family, volunteer in your community? Kids are learning about MLK in their classes, but the lesson truly takes hold when they learn the spirit of the day by putting together care packages for the homeless, or cleaning up a public park, or shoveling the walk for a neighbor, or ladling stew at a soup kitchen, or, or, or…

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How can you creatively express your huge commitment to service? Without advance planning, perhaps you don’t have a volunteer project lined up for today–how about using the day to commit to action soon? Surf around to find a non-profit organization doing projects near you–there are so many resources for discovery, and SOOOO many organizations that need your assistance. When the new tax laws have most charities and non-profits quaking in their boots in anticipation of Americans donating RECORD LOW AMOUNTS to charitable causes, giving hours (in addition to) dollars becomes even more important.

There are web tools for you to use in your neighborhoods and towns, to find projects and programs that need your contribution. The MLKDay website has resources that are already serving the hundreds of thousands of people who will volunteer around the nation today, but the opportunity lasts long past midnight tonight. Use the website as a jumping off place. I promise there are other day of service events and tasks in your immediate region, school, place of worship, block, etc. What’s that? You already made plans for today you can’t break? You’ve got a little time coming up…Next weekend. On your birthday. On your anniversary. On the day a loved one passed to honor them. Or on an ongoing basis. What if today is the day you find a brand new, exciting passion project that completely fires you up? It is out there–I can promise you that, and they truly need you and what you bring. You don’t have to be a certain age, have expertise, have physical abilities, have endless free time–none of that is required for you to contribute.

Contribution can be a scary word–our brains go toward yet another request to open our wallets. What if you re-framed it and held the meaning of the word more closely to its intended use in language: the part played by a person or thing in bringing about a result or helping something to advance. What matters at the very root of it all is the contribution of your art, your passion, your enthusiasm, your voice, your ability to encourage and inspire others, your willingness to take a stand on an issue that matters to and moves you. Move things forward. Move our country forward, for you truly have the ability (without spending a cent).

“The time is always right to do what is right.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Largest Protected Area on Earth Created – Now What? Volunteer!

underwater shot of endangered Hawaiian monk seal

Endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal

Last week, President Obama signed legislation creating the largest protected area anywhere. The Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (which was set aside as a protected Pacific ocean space in 2006) was quadrupled in size. The newly expanded marine preserve is now double the size of the state of Texas. Its area, called by some a “Blue Park,” encompasses a large spread of the waters to the NorthWest of the Hawaiian Islands.

Now a hefty 582,578 square miles, the National Monument is larger than all the US National Parks combined. It is now a protected sanctuary for thousands of species, many of them endangered, and many found exclusively in these waters. Its protection will stop any future deep-sea mining and other depleting practices. Commercial fishing is also restricted in these remote seas, though licensed recreational fishing is still permitted.

So here’s the cool part–to celebrate the newest baby park (a huge baby, at that) why not consider getting involved as a volunteer? Some of the Marine National Monument volunteer activities include: Communications and office-based help, habitat restoration on some of the atolls and small islands, wildlife sanctuary work, and wildlife biology volunteers. Some of the volunteer stints are smaller in commitment, some last up to 6 or 7 months living in remote places–a dream for a drop-off-the-grid service-oriented soul.

It sounds pretty dreamy to an island lover like me!


Photo credit: USFWS Headquarters via VisualHunt / CC BY