Valentine: Please Be My Volunteer
By Sheryl Kane
Valentine’s Day can be a somewhat overdone and uncomfortable holiday for singles. After my divorce, I focused on making Valentine’s Day even more fun than usual for my daughters and myself – I bought them Valentine decorated socks and T-shirts and we worked together to make a lovely dinner together of all of our favorite foods. The following year my firstborn came up with the brilliant idea that became a family tradition: Valentine: Please Be My Volunteer.
Valentine’s Day is a good excuse to spread the love and keep it up. Now that my daughters are off on their own, I continue the Valentine Volunteer tradition in a variety locally and sometimes further away. There are a number of websites that will help you match your interests and availability with local organizations in need of volunteers.
My mother doesn’t travel much anymore but she volunteers three days a week running the gift shop for a nursing home in Richmond, Virginia. Marsha, who lives in New York City, takes her miniature poodle, Chester, to visit senior citizens each week. If you have an afternoon or morning, consider assisting cleaning up or replanting a local park. For a day, you could respond to letters from prisoners, advocate for your favorite animal, or guide handicapped visitors through a museum.
I’m an animal lover but my lifestyle right now isn’t conducive to having pets of my own. Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah is located in the center of the Golden Circle: the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and Lake Powell. Best Friends offers visitors a unique volunteer vacation year round. Animal lovers can visit the sanctuary, where you can stay on-site in cabins and spend the weekend volunteering at the Sanctuary taking animals on walks, feeding them or ‘borrowing’ an animal for an overnight visit in your cabin/cottage. There are 1,700 animals on-site at the Sanctuary, including dogs, cats, birds, pot-bellied pigs and horses.
Valentine’s volunteering can also be a great incentive to travel and one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever taken was to Brazil and the Amazon. I very much want to return to help save the pink dolphins. Beautiful and rare pink dolphins are found dead along the banks daily. Many current and new programs are organizing to educate communities, raise fines, and protect these animals and their habitats.
Fauna Forever Tambopata (FFT), is a wildlife research, conservation, and training project in the Amazon rainforest of Tambopata, Peru, an area with the highest biodiversity levels of any rainforest on earth. Home to endangered species such as the giant river otter, pink dolphin, harpy eagle, bush dog, black caiman, and jaguar, the region has thousands of species of plants and butterflies, and hundreds of species of birds and mammals. FFT participants choose a team that focuses on mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, or insects, and learn field methods and how to identify the species sampled. Volunteers also attend presentations by FFT staff and participate in discussions about the Amazon rainforest with conservation groups, government and grass- roots organizations, and communities.
When I think of Valentine’s Day as a loving and giving Volunteer day or extended activity, I feel warm and fuzzy inside, loved and loving myself, which is truly what this holiday, and most of our days, should be. Enjoy yours, to receive, do new things in new places, and give.
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Sheryl Kayne is a writer, adventurer, performer, educator, and public speaker. She is the author of Volunteer Vacations Across America and Immersion Travel USA: The Best and Most Meaningful Volunteering, Living, and Learning Excursions (Countryman Press, a division of W. W. Norton and Company). Sheryl would love to hear from you at ImmersionTravel@aol.com.
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