April is National Volunteer Month: What are you going to do?

By Sheryl Kayne

volunteeringVolunteers are people who give and receive. If you are one of those people who would like to give more but can’t quite figure out how to do it, then this column is for you. April is national volunteer month and the people, places, and events all around you will eagerly accept your interest, abilities, time and talent.

But it all starts with you and what you’d like to do. Are you passionate about working with people, communities, wildlife, the environment or preserving our national parks? On the local level, you can find out about needs in your own backyard through the Points of Light Institute (www.pointsoflight.org).

They  believe that each person is able to make a difference and contribute to creating healthy communities. Their HandsOn Action Centers enable you to search for volunteer opportunities in your local community if you are interested in using your skills to help people or causes that are important to you, want to meet people who share your interests, and learn how to get involved, visit www.handsonnetwork.org, go to Action Centers and click on your state to find an affiliate. Volunteer opportunities will be listed by city and organization with a key that provides links to directory information, Web sites, online volunteer matching, and volunteer management training.

A great way to find out about volunteering at events wherever you’ll be traveling is to contact the local United Way.  The last time I was in Hawaii, which is where I’d love to be right now, I found out about a great community fair that needed workers in Hilo, through the event calendar on the Volunteer Hawaii Web site (www.volunteerhawaii.org).

Volunteering can also be spontaneous. Whenever I arrive in a new location, the first thing I do is go to a community bulletin board, often found in the post office, town hall or library. When I arrived in Stehekin, WA, I read an open invitation to a wedding on a bulletin board. After scrambling for an appropriate wedding gift for people I didn’t know, I spot cleaned my jeans and arrived in time to serve punch.

While visiting Sag Harbor, NY I painted a house for the first time, it was not easy work and I was not very good, but my efforts were appreciated. In Taos, New Mexico, I read books to children in the local head start program.

Rebekah Harlan, Volunteer Director with Amizade Global Service-Learning and Volunteer Programs, recommends starting locally and building globally. “A great way to acclimate children and families to volunteering is to help out in a local soup kitchen,” says Harlan. That experience can then be built upon by volunteering with Amizade in our nation’s capital feeding the hungry.

When we open our minds and our hearts to the possibilities of what we can do for others, we’re amazed by how easy it is to make great things happen. Let me know what you decide to do at www.immersiontraveler.com. Happy giving and receiving.

Other articles
Immersion Travel: Learn How to Mush
A Traveler’s Gift Guide
Become an Immersion Traveler

Sheryl Kayne is the author of IMMERSION TRAVEL USA: THE BEST & MOST MEANINGFUL VOLUNTEERING, LIVING & LEARNING EXCURSIONS. Her next book, out Summer 2009, is VOLUNTEER VACATIONS ACROSS AMERICA . Read more about Sheryl at her website: www.immersiontraveler.com