Kids out of school plus longer days plus more vacation time plus oppressive heat equals one thing—boredom. There are only so many hours in a day that you can lounge by the pool reading Us Weekly and sippin’ on mojitos. This summer, why not spend a few of those extra hours making a difference—volunteering? Don’t worry; it doesn’t take a lot of work. No matter how much time and energy you’re able to give, you can better the world or your own neighborhood, help fight hunger or animal cruelty, start a community garden or stop the devastation of the Amazon rainforests, save lives or simply put a smile on someone’s face. Volunteering is something that anyone can do, alone, as a family, with friends, adults, teenagers and even the kids. This week, the Weekly has some tips for doing good.
The easiest way to get started is to get online. Shawna K. Ross, the Volunteer Center Coordinator for Central Michigan University, recommends Googling organizations like the United Way, Helping Hands, the Points of Light Foundation, Volunteer Match or the Corporation for National and Community Service. You can also pick a specific organization dedicated to a cause you believe in, such as Planned Parenthood, UNICEF, the Sierra Club, PETA or AIDS Project Los Angeles. If you’d like to work with a lesser-known or more localized group, Google your zip code, city or county along with terms that relate to a subject that matters to you, such as “hunger,” “literacy” or “gay and lesbian organizations.” If you don’t have personal access to a computer, most libraries have free Internet along with knowledgeable staff that can help you find what you need.
If you’re more inspired by helping out in your own community, Ross suggests contacting your city hall and asking about summer programming for festivals, musical events or children’s programs (there are a ton in the IE—just check out InlandArts.com). Additionally, there may be community clean-ups, police agencies that need help removing graffiti, city murals to be touched up, fences to be painted, etc. City hall could also connect you to animal control or the Humane Society, which often have adorable and lonely animals that need walking or feeding. The California Commission on Aging can link you up with senior citizens who are in need of friendly visitors, meals on wheels or someone to take them to appointments. Or you could simply stop by your neighborhood senior citizen center and play a game of Uno or Go Fish—the stories you’ll end up hearing will be priceless.
If the idea of volunteering lights a fire under your ass, get grassroots and organize a bake sale or car wash and donate the proceeds to a charity that you support. Or organize a letter-writing campaign—invite all your friends over for those mojitos and write letters to your congressperson about what changes you’d like to see in your community. You could even, as Ross suggests, start a community garden and donate the fresh produce to the Red Cross or a church that feeds hungry families. If, on the other hand, you’re strapped for time, there are also organizations that allow you to do things from home, such as write letters, knit blankets for needy babies and more.
There ain’t nothing wrong with getting in some good relaxing this summer. But you will enjoy that time even more if you give a little of yourself to a world in need. Oh yeah—that volunteering-induced smile we mentioned earlier? That would be on you.