In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Americans are reaching deep into their pockets to contribute to relief and recovery efforts across the South (see local events at left). The outpouring of aid and compassion has also led many to think about ways they can volunteer in their own communities -- not just for victims of this disaster, but to other worthwhile causes and needs as well.
Finding organizations and nonprofit groups that need more than just your financial assistance can take a little rooting around. Think about your talents or things that interest you and then try to find a fit. Local nonprofit organizations often rely on volunteers to lend a hand with their core mission, not just to raise money or do drudge work such as stuffing envelops or answering phones, says Ami Dar, executive director of Idealist (www.idealist.org), a free online database that matches hopeful helpers with organizations that need assistance.
"Small groups can't afford to put on big gala events or take out full-page ads in the paper," he says. "But many of them offer great opportunities for people to get involved."
Here are some options for jump-starting your volunteer career.
Are you a gear head? Bikes for the World, a new group sponsored by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, needs volunteers to take apart, repair and reassemble bikes that will be sent to Central America and West Africa for use in community development projects. The group also needs volunteers to help distribute donated bikes to children at local homeless shelters and to teach them to ride. Visit the organization's Web site (www.bikesfortheworld.org) or call Keith Oberg, 703-525-0931. A separate group, the Shaw EcoVillage (www.shawecovillage.com), needs help Tuesday nights to inventory bikes for its Chain Reaction project for inner city youth. Contact Eric Welp, 202-265-2842.
Calvary Women's Services (www.calvaryservices.org), a D.C.-based group providing housing and support services to homeless women, needs people who know their way around a kitchen to teach cooking basics -- and give hands-on cooking demos -- that can help clients become self-sufficient. Contact Allison Harvey, 202-783-6651, firstname.lastname@example.org.
DIPLOMAT FOR THE DISTRICT
If you like showing off the city to visitors, you may be perfect as a tour guide with Hostelling International. Volunteers should be 18 or older, like meeting and greeting younger tourists (most hostel guests are between 18 and 25) and have an appreciation for D.C.'s well-known, as well as more obscure, and less-expensive attractions. Contact Adam Bremer, 202-737-2333, Ext. 107, or go to www.hiwashingtondc.org.
Join Weed Warriors, a new program launched by the Nature Conservancy in cooperation with the National Park Service that trains volunteers to help identify nonnative invasive plants and rid them from local parklands, including parts of the C&O Canal, Great Falls and Turkey Run. Later this year, the group will need additional foot soldiers to help with its annual Great Blue Heron Nest Count. Check out www.nature.org or call Mary Travaglini, 301-897-8570.
Audition to be a reader for the Metropolitan Washington Ear (www.washear.org), which provides daily broadcasts of The Washington Post and USA Today in their entirety as well as selections from the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor. The organization also needs readers for several magazines including Time, Washingtonian and People. More than 1,500 visually impaired people in the area access the broadcast through a call-in service and another 2,300 listen via closed-circuit radio. The radio portion is also streamed on the organization's Web site. Volunteers must have transportation to the group's Silver Spring studio and need to commit to at least two hours per week. Contact Nancy Knauss, 301-681-6636.
Our Place DC needs energetic volunteers to spend structured time with local children between the ages of 6 and 16 whose mothers are or have been incarcerated. Activities include bowling, trips to the movies, skating and other excursions. Volunteers for this program need to be at least 18 and must be able to commit at least four hours one Saturday per month. To be accepted into the program, helpers must first undergo a police background check, and will be reimbursed for any associated costs. Check out the group at www.ourplacedc.org or contact Erica Drucker, 202-548-2400, email@example.com.