Volunteering for a cause that you are passionate about can have many personal and professional benefits. Sometimes people have a hard time getting started because they have no idea of the many opportunities available. Whether you're a senior citizen, adult, adolescent or a child, there are many fun options to explore to make a difference in your community.
Creative Ways to Volunteer
There are always traditional ways to volunteer in every community, from helping out at the local homeless shelter to serving on a church committee or mentoring a youth group. If you're looking for something different, here are some creative ideas on volunteering:
- Like to run? United in Stride and Achilles International are two organizations that pair runners with people with disabilities. You participate together in regular workouts and eventually compete in races such as 5Ks and marathons.
- If you enjoy the outdoors and conservation, most national parks have volunteer programs. Some require special skills while others are open to anyone 18 or older.
- Hold a product drive for a shelter, such as personal hygiene products for women, toothpaste and brushes, shampoo, soap and more. Shelters for adults and families can always use these supplies.
- Hold a fundraiser at your favorite local restaurant or bar such as a trivia night or a meat auction. Invite your friends to participate and have fun while raising money for a good cause.
- Run a fundraiser involving group games like Bunco, bingo or a "buildathon" using Legos.
- If you're mechanically inclined, contact an organization that helps people with disabilities and offer to repair and maintain wheelchairs for their clientele.
- Teaching is a fantastic way to volunteer. If you have a skill and are a subject matter expert, consider teaching free classes. Possible venues include training volunteers to train dogs at an animal shelter, teaching senior citizens how to use social media at a senior center, or teaching younger children at youth centers any number of academic and life skills topics.
- If you've got the Marie Kondo bug, go through all of your closets and make a big donation of clothes for your local shelter or Dress for Success program. Let your friends know you'll collect their clothing as well to make one large donation.
- If you're artistic, offer to paint a mural at a local business or park area. Engage other artistic friends if you have them to beautify an area with paint, mosaics and other mediums.
- Start a garden with some other local volunteers. The food you grow can either go to a food bank or shelter for meals for the residents, or you can sell the harvest at a farmer's market and donate the proceeds to a charity.
- If you're skilled at social media, find a local non-profit that needs help to set up or maintain a Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube or Pinterest account.
Kid-Friendly Volunteer Ideas
It's often harder to find volunteer opportunities for younger children and teens as many charities need to have minimum age limits for insurance and safety reasons. There still are many ways that children can learn to support their community.
- Get your children to participate in holding a garage sale with all proceeds going to a charity, their school or a Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop. Children can help gather the items, price them, hang flyers in the neighborhood and "staff" the sale.
- Engage your children and teenagers in a beach clean-up day. You can do one organized through the Ocean Conservancy's Coastal Cleanup program, or arrange one on your own.
- There are many local senior citizen facilities that need volunteers to teach classes, provide entertainment, and simply sit and talk with the residents. While some may not allow volunteers under 18, there are facilities that will welcome mature adolescents. They can gain a wonderful experience talking to elderly residents, playing board games and learning about their lives while helping ease loneliness.
- Every neighborhood has residents who may need extra help around the house due to mobility issues, such as seniors or people with disabilities, or even a busy single mother with young children. Children and teens can volunteer to shovel snow, mow lawns, rake leaves and do other light maintenance tasks to neighbors who will really appreciate the help.
- Adolescents can also volunteer to babysit for neighborhood couples so they can have a break from dealing with children and run errands or even have a date night out.
- Encourage children and teens who excel at certain subjects to volunteer to tutor their fellow or younger students in academic subjects.
- A fun way for students to learn vocabulary and help out others is to utilize the Freerice website. Each time you test yourself on vocabulary terms, the organization donates 10 grains of rice to poor families internationally.
- Children can work with their parents to write letters and prepare care packages for soldiers stationed overseas. They can also "adopt a soldier" and brighten someone's day.
- Contact local nursing homes and residential facilities to organize holiday decoration volunteer outings. Provide them with a tree and all the trimmings to cheer up the residents.
- The Box Project helps poor families in rural communities. A family can get together and sponsor a needy family through writing encouraging notes and sending a box of basic supplies monthly. This is an excellent way to teach children about compassion for others.
Volunteer Opportunities for Seniors
Older adults tend to volunteer in higher numbers as they have more time with retirement. Seniors will enjoy these volunteer opportunities:
- Uplift is an organization that trains volunteers to cuddle and hold infants born from drug-addicted parents. These sessions can actually help the infant handle the discomfort of withdrawal symptoms. The program has a few participating hospitals nationally.
- Consider mentoring and coaching a children's sports team. You can provide younger children with your years of experience and guidance and teach them the game without having to compete physically yourself.
- "Adopt" a grandchild from a needy low-income family by helping out with babysitting, tutoring and taking them out to parks, libraries and other educational activities.
- Become a mentor with an organization like Big Brothers Big Sisters or lead a Boy or Girl Scouts troop.
- There are many volunteer opportunities that you can do for home that would fit well with a senior's lifestyle. For example, you can use knitting skills to make blankets for charities like Warm Up America and Binky Patrol. Or write inspirational cards and notes to people suffering from chemotherapy who need some emotional support.
- There are tons of opportunities at museums, historical societies, zoos and other organizations to serve as volunteer docents and tour guides. You get to share your knowledge and meet people of all ages.
- Find a local literacy program that needs volunteers to help teach adults to read or to learn English as a second language.
- If you enjoy politics, volunteer to work on a campaign. You can choose from local races through state and federal campaigns and volunteer to collect signatures, work the phone banks and participate in rallies.
- Do you speak more than one language? There are many volunteer opportunities requiring people to translate, whether it's in person or doing translations online. You can search on the Volunteer Match website for positions all over the country.
- Become a board member! Volunteers often don't think of these valuable positions as options, but board members play a crucial role. Seniors have a wealth of experience and the free time to become an effective presence on a board.
Company Volunteer Ideas
If you work for a company that is eager to show their support for their community, volunteering as a team is an excellent way to give back and build more camaraderie.
- Your company can participate in a national park Adopt-a-Trail program which requires four visits a year to clear the trail of litter and do general maintenance.
- Create a company-wide food drive for your local food bank. You can collect not only food but also cooking gear and utensils, pet food and dishes, and personal products like soap.
- Another company-wide activity could be hosting a toy drive for children in shelters. This can be especially important during the winter holidays.
- Organize a blood drive and make it fun by holding a contest with your fellow employees.
- "Adopt" a local playground in an under-served area and refurbish and paint playground equipment and benches and plant flowers. There are many things you can do to beautify a park and improve on the offerings for children to make it safer and more fun.
- Participate as a group in a local or "e-mentor" program for high school students. Each employee can take on a student, and you can provide mutual support and feedback for each other on your progress with your mentees.
- Your company could also get together and sponsor an entire classroom through DonorsChoose.org.
- Contact a local charity and offer to plan an entire event for them. Many small charities struggle with holding fundraising events such as 5Ks, silent auctions and more because of lack of staff and funds.
- Many large charities such as Habitat for Humanity regularly allow companies to do a "team volunteer day" doing projects. Instead of going with charities that have lots of attention, contact your local United Way and church to ask about needy charities that are lesser known and would be thrilled to have your staff learn more about them and assist them with a project.
- Contact a local children's hospital and senior center and find out if they would enjoy some entertainment. Your staff can go together to do fun things like perform skits, play music or use other talents that you have like singing, magic, juggling or dancing.
Fun Ways to Volunteer With Animals
Volunteering with animals is a popular way to give back. Although not everyone can work directly with animals due to time, mobility or other issues, there are still many ways to help animals!
- If you love animals, and you have the room, consider becoming a foster parent. Shelters and rescues always have animals that can't handle the stress of a kennel or have medical issues that require regular care. Good foster homes are hard to find, and most places will train you if you're willing.
- Another unusual animal activity that shelters and rescues always need is bottle-feeding kittens. It requires someone with a lot of time availability, but it's very rewarding (and super adorable!).
- See if there's a local equine-assisted therapy program near you. These programs need volunteers who can walk beside the children on the horses, and you don't need any experience to help out.
- Train your pet to do animal-assisted therapy and volunteer at senior centers, hospices, hospitals and shelters. You aren't limited to just dogs as animals such as cats, rabbits and even birds can do animal assisted interventions.
- If you have a dog that's gentle and calm around children, look for reading programs at your local library. If your library doesn't have one, try starting one on your own.
- Similar to reading programs with dogs for children, did you know that reading to shelter dogs and other animals can be a great stress reliever? Many shelters will allow volunteers to sit simply in a kennel with an animal and read to them, which has a calming effect on the animal, and it's a great volunteer opportunity for someone who may find walking dogs difficult.
- If you can work with a local veterinarian, hold a clinic for low-income and homeless pet owners to provide free basic veterinary care and shots.
- Put on a fundraiser to buy pet oxygen masks for your local fire department or bulletproof vests for police K9s.
- Have a toy-making party, which can be done with young children, adults or even seniors will have fun. You get a group of friends together and make simple DIY toys for cats, birds, and small pets at your local shelter. Some shelters will also be happy to let you stuff food toys for them such as Kongs, and this can be done as a group without interacting with the animals.
- If you find birds fascinating, a volunteer opportunity you can do at home is as a bird watcher for eBird. Share your sightings with others on the website to help scientists learn more about migration and conservation.
Finding Fun and Easy Volunteer Opportunities
Once you start digging in and researching, you'll be surprised to find out just how many volunteer options there are. These can be available not only locally but nationally now that so many people can perform skills remotely. Just start with something that you feel passionate about and you'll find organizations that support your favorite cause and need your help!