Volunteer Opportunities in the Washington Area

By Moira E. McLaughlin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008

I've always regretted not devoting a year of my life to some kind of service after college. I was too clueless and selfish to think much about that then. But as I have gotten older, the words "To whom much is given, much is expected" have taken on real meaning.

So a couple of years ago, I began teaching a GED class in Northwest Washington. I felt so bad that these people, so wanting to enhance their lives, were relying on me. They were from all backgrounds: quiet Meseret from Ethiopia, who often sat next to Faven from Eritrea; Dominique, a native Washingtonian who talked about "stooping" with his brothers and watching the "ladies"; and the determined Taiwanese woman whose name I never could remember.

I wish I had some feel-good story about how I changed a frustrated student's life. In reality, it took me about six months to realize that no one knew what I was talking about when I referred to a "paragraph."

That's not to say I think that my class and I were unsuccessful. Eventually, I did teach them about paragraphs, and they taught me about respect. That's really what my students sought in earning their GED: respect. I realized that wasn't too far off from what we all seek in our lives.

What follows are a few volunteer opportunities to get you thinking. Some require specific time commitments; others are more "drop-in." And although this time of year seems the natural time to want to help, the reality is that people in need will appreciate your time as much in February as now. We've grouped these by category so you can find where your interests and the community's needs intersect.

Helping Kids

Horton's Kids, Washington

What is it? Karin Walser was inspired to start Horton's Kids after a group of teenagers approached her on Capitol Hill, wanting to pump her gas in 1989. She befriended the kids and started taking them on field trips on the weekends. Today, the nonprofit group serves about 144 kids from Anacostia, offering tutoring, mentoring and field trips.

How can you help? Tutor a kid ages 4 to 18 at the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, Mondays or Tuesdays from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Who volunteers? "Anybody who wants to make a difference," said Lindsy Pietroski, communications and development director. "It's such a rewarding volunteer opportunity, and you can really get to know the child and you get to see the difference you're making in their lives."

Why do it? "I love it," said Will Griffith, 29, who has been volunteering with Horton's Kids for more than two years. "I feel we can really see the positive influence we're making on the children, and honestly, they're a lot of fun to be around. Some of the things that come out of their mouths, you wouldn't believe it. They're absolutely hilarious."

Where to start? Go to http://www.hortonskids.org/volunteering.html to download the volunteer application and tutor background questionnaire, or e-mail brenda@hortonskids.org or call 202-544-5033, Ext. 5. Volunteers must go through a background check and orientation; they are asked to commit to three tutor training sessions and then one evening a week for a school year. Those with less time can tutor with a partner or be a floater twice a month.

St. Ann's Infant and Maternity Home, Maryland

What is it? St. Ann's in Hyattsville is home to about 25 abused, neglected or abandoned kids, newborn to age 12, and 17 teen mothers with their babies.

How can you help? Play and help with the kids.

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