I want to do more volunteering! What should I do?
October 11, 2015 11:10 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to do more volunteer work! What's out there that really needs doing? As a postdoc in the physical sciences, I'm already doing some outreach work, but I am interested in finding someplace where I can do some good while also getting a bit of a mental break from science. Bonus points for specific suggestions within Seattle.

It would be particularly gratifying to find a niche that's currently short on volunteers for whatever reason. I enjoy hard labor and lifting things (but I am not a very large person, so there are some limits to what I'm physically capable of.) I am also fine with dirt, heights, cold and other physical discomforts. Boring jobs are fine since I'm looking for a brain break.

Skills I have that might be useful:
- Basic mechanical skills (e.g. I can do most of my own bike maintenance and build ugly but functional things out of wood.)
- The computer/office skills you would expect from someone who has been a technical writer and a grad student in the physical sciences
- General improvised problem solving
- Public speaking and performance
- Basic coding skills

I would prefer to avoid polling, fundraising, signature-gathering, or otherwise approaching random strangers on the street or by telephone. I also don't have all that much spare mental bandwidth, so I'd prefer something that I can do for a defined number of hours per week and not worry about the rest of the time.
posted by fermion to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Food rescue. These orgs (I volunteer for one) intercept edible-but-not-sellable food between the back door and the dumpster, and then pass it on to shelters and soup kitchens and food banks and group homes. Donors are protected across North America by Good Samaritan laws, and it's lessening general waste at the same time. And! You're helping to feed hungry people--it's the single most concrete volunteer work I've ever done.

If there isn't such an org in your city, create one--many of your skills are directly applicable to either starting from nothing and creating a warehouse space and logistics network, or maintaining one that exists.

One third (that's who I volunteer for) of all food grown is wasted. And people go hungry. Any fix to the first problem that also helps fix the second one is a good thing, in my eyes.

Or just volunteer for a food bank--it takes a lot of work to sort and/or distribute donations, and any help is always greatly appreciated.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:22 PM on October 11, 2015

When I was looking for volunteer opportunities, I just googled my city and "volunteer" and a website popped up with volunteer listings. Look, here's one for Seattle:
Seattle volunteer opportunities.

A buttload of opportunities in there - including loading/unloading the food bank truck, data entry for charitable organizations, helping seniors, etc. Try cruising through to find something unique.

I had a volunteering gig helping a Self-Help group do arts and crafts every week, wouldn't have found it without the volunteering website.
posted by lizbunny at 11:30 PM on October 11, 2015

You can volunteer at your local bike collective. It looks like there are a couple in Seattle. Most bike collectives would probably be perfectly happy to let you build up bikes/wheels/etc (at any skill level) from donated parts. It's usually a bonus if you enjoy teaching, too.
posted by aniola at 12:14 AM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have you considered volunteering in a park or garden?
Seattle Parks and Gardens lists several ways to volunteer.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:20 AM on October 12, 2015

Seattle Books To Prisoners. www.bookstoprisoners.net (sorry, I can't get this to be a direct link)

They receive thousands of letters from prisoners in state and federal prisons across the country asking for books. Volunteers open the letters, choose books, fill out the necessary prison paperwork, and wrap the packages of books (although if you're terrible at wrapping, someone else will do it). It's some of the most satisfying volunteer work I've ever done. You are actually making a difference to an individual in a terrible system. It's fascinating and surprisingly empowering.

You work as much or as little as you want, and you don't have to think about it when you're not doing it. Although you'll probably find yourself stopping at tiny libraries and being thrilled when you find a dictionary or a Stephen King or Autobiography of Malcolm X. Score!
posted by kestralwing at 4:26 AM on October 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

My favorite volunteer activity, hands down, is judging high school speech and debate. The NSDA, NCFL, and other national organizations can surely point you in the right direction for your area. That's how I got hooked up with the local league here last year, and it is SO MUCH FUN. Seriously. This past weekend I spent Saturday listening to kids speak about all sorts of topics, and I learned a lot in the process. You can sign up for however much you're able to do; it's very schedule friendly in that regard.

Really. SO MUCH FUN.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:35 AM on October 12, 2015

For years I volunteered with Seattle Works Team Works, where you get together one Saturday a month with the same group of people and volunteer at different locations throughout the city, and the Seattle Works organization takes care of the details (Their website does not appear to be in great shape but they were super organized when I was involved with them). It was a great way to get the know the city and expand my social circle.

A lot of the work that you wind up doing is pretty physical, so that sounds like it would be appealing for you.
posted by Kwine at 12:21 PM on October 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

You would be surprised by what organizations are looking for board members who are just like you.
posted by jander03 at 12:56 AM on October 13, 2015

Thanks for all the fantastic answers, guys! I am going to check all of these out.
posted by fermion at 10:56 PM on October 13, 2015

Couple other ideas:

You can build houses for Habitat for Humanity (no skills required);


You can walk dogs or play with cats at your local shelter. Or photograph said dogs and cats; they get adopted much faster with good pictures for the websites.
posted by bluesky78987 at 2:29 PM on October 14, 2015

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