Volunteerism!

I used to volunteer at our local religious institution, where I managed all their IT needs (ranging from user support to running cat6 and setting up wifi). Their needs were relatively simple. I chose to give it up when I went back to school (and working full time plus going to school crowded out free time for volunteering). Since then, we went through a pandemic, I got my degree, and now I find myself with some free time again and a hankering to do something worthwhile.

I’m looking for inspiration, and, frankly, Qt3 is full of inspiring people. So: if you’re interested, please post a summary of the kinds of volunteerism that you engage in. Hopefully this encourages me (and others?) to get more involved and volunteer in their local communities.

I kind of bailed out on it when I had kids, but I used to volunteer at the local aquarium. They have specialists and biologists who do the important care of animals, but there’s a touch tank area near the front that is mostly staffed by volunteers. Their job is to kind of mind that people aren’t getting too handsy (one finger touch is suggested) or try to take something out of the tank, but also to answer questions and tell people facts about the lives of things that live there. I really enjoyed it, found it very satisfying and also educational. I could see myself going back to it someday.

I’m the volunteer Committee chair for my local synagogues Tech Committee and Religious School Committee. Also I sit in on the Budget and Finance Committee and used to be a Board Member. It’s a lot of time, with inconsistent help - but I think its rewarding to help keep a venerable local institution going!

Excellent thread idea!

I spend most of my volunteer time with the Refugee Education Center here in the Grand Rapids MI area. They help with the educational needs of families coming into the US under refugee programs, mostly from central Africa but also the Middle East, SE Asia, etc. I do some IT support for them, but mostly it’s tutoring school-age kids and driving families to schools for PTA meetings and the like. It’s a local nonprofit, but almost every mid-to-large US metro area has similar organizations that help refugees, both in education and other areas.

A couple of times a month, I help out at Heartside Gleaning, which provides fresh fruit and vegetables to food-insecure families around the Heartside neighborhood area of Grand Rapids (thus the name). Again, a local organization, but there’s plenty of similar places in other parts of the country and the world.

Just about every public school in the US can use extra help, if you like working with kids. I’ve done tutoring for grade-schoolers both here in Michigan and down in Florida (when my parents used to live there and I was visiting). Find your local school’s website and they’ll have info on what kind of things they can use help with.

Every once in a while I do a Habitat for Humanity workday, providing my (very) unskilled labor in putting up a home. If you’ve got construction or handyman skills then this type of thing is probably right up your alley, but even those of us who have no such abilities can be useful on the worksite. I’ve also done these sorts of workdays in association with local churches - religious institutions tend to have a list of those in the community who can use the help.

There’s a ton of other opportunities to volunteer in almost every type of activity, if you just keep an eye out. I’ve done environmental cleanup days, serving lunch for homeless folks, library inventory sorting, any number of different church activities, and more. I tend to find those through the church and people I know there, but if you’re not a churchgoer then websites like volunteermatch are a good place to start looking.

I volunteer a couple hours a week working on local parks. Weeding, pulling/cutting invasives, plant natives and so forth.

I have thought about getting back into working with FIRST Robotics either through a school or at the district level but they don’t make it easy to get involved. It feels like Scouting in that respect. They both need volunteers but because most of the volunteers entered the organization when their kids were involved it can be a little closed to outsiders who have no connection to the local groups.

As I’ve noted in other posts, my son is a musician. So in high school we got very involved with his public high schools bands program. As noted above, the schools always need volunteers.

When he was in college he marched in DCI (Drum Corps) so we volunteered with them and have continued to volunteer even though my son is off to other things. My spouse (the MD) is one of the corps on-call doc, and then we travel with the corps typically for just under a week each summer tour.

My less glamorous role but still critical job is on the corps mobile food kitchen, preparing meals, cleaning up, and helping with supplies. If you are familiar with DCI shows and the training needed for them, you understand why these kids EAT!

When I retire, I plan to take up more volunteering.

I was volunteering at an animal shelter; a converted farm estate nestled amongst the verdant fields and meadows of typically British local countryside. It’s both a bit larger than your standard shelter and, thanks to its heritage, houses a more peculiar assortment of clientele (horses and the like). Cats are my passion tho, and still constituted the largest community numerically albeit not physically (chonks aside). Consequently I found myself embedded fairly quickly within catpop, with my general responsibilities comprising grooming, entertainment and… just total feline subservience, I suppose.

Ferals aside, intake animals that had been subjected to neglect and abuse were mercifully rare and the shelter was well equipped enough to ensure a decent standard of living. Which is to say, it was never overtly unpleasant experience but I nonetheless felt a sense of encroaching sadness. I could feel a bit of me getting left behind alongside each furball that I knew I shouldn’t - couldn’t - take home.

My inevitable breaking point occurred during one muggy Sunday afternoon when I just happened to be in the lobby as a woman was giving up her beloved cat. She’d been forced into the surrender due to financial hardship, a common and depressingly banal occurrence post brexit. post COVID. post a decade of our country’s leadership levelling up the ledgers of their cronies above all else. I helped relieve her of her furry family member, then sat with her and glumly watched her cat curl up pathetically in the rear corner of one of the intake cages as she said her goodbyes. Both possessed the cowed mannerism of the totally hopeless.

Afterwards I went back to my car in numb silence, sat in it and sobbed. Then followed a miserable journey home wrestling with the bleak realisation that I guess I just don’t have the constitution required to be a good person. Or at least that sort of good person.

*Sigh*

I still donate.


(NB This isn’t meant to discourage anyone. Far from it. Even if you turn out to be triplemild weaksauce like me, I still feel I made things a bit better, albeit in a small way, for a short time. Maybe someday I’ll wall off yet another portion of my heart and go back.)

I think I would have had a similar reaction. That is hard.

There are things I know I could not volunteer for. So as you have done support with labor where you can, and monetarily for those you cannot give labor.

That’s rough.

That type of thing is why I help my community with work on parks. The worse we’ve had is cutting out wineberries. They aren’t native but they are delicious!

I spent four years (two 2-year terms) on our town’s conservation commission. Members are appointed by the local Democratic and Republican committees, so no hassle over elections, just interviews. We’re so desperate for people to participate in town government that they’ll accept almost anyone, I figure it’s not so different in most relatively small towns.

Most of it involved coordination of maintenance of town land (trails, invasive plant removal, etc.). Not parks, that’s the town’s Parks & Rec committee. Two evening meetings per month, about 10 weekends per year in the field with crews. Usually it was low-key and uncontroversial. A few times not so much, mainly when it involved logging our 600+ acre forest “preserve”, which needed management so that it didn’t become a potential fire bomb.

I left because it became too much with work. But as I head toward to retirement in 2 or 3 years I may go back. I still join in with invasive plant removal crews.

We did a session of invasive plant removal for the county parks last fall. Good reminder that I enjoyed this(they did a good job of identification education along with other fun info) and should look out for more sessions! The rest of the family wasn’t so thrilled with it, so I don’t think I’ll rope them in again.