What volunteer activities should I get involved in?
December 14, 2003 11:37 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for recommendations on volunteer activities to get involved in. I have a fairly open and flexible schedule and would like to help out more in my community. That said, I'd prefer something that uses my skills and also gives me something back. I am thinking something arts-related or involving teaching (I've taught literacy classes in the past.) What are some positive experiences others here have had? How do I go about searching for the right thing? I am also open to working for nominal pay (e.g. working for a good nonprofit parttime.)

I should add, for context, that I am over-educated,. I speak spanish. And I live in san francisco.
posted by vacapinta to Grab Bag (9 answers total)
I admire your working for literacy -- why not simply return to that? It truly is one of the more "noble" charitable works one can perform. Perhaps go beyond simply tutoring/mentoring, however, -- maybe there is a way to become directly involved in the administration of literacy programs. Good luck.
posted by davidmsc at 11:39 AM on December 14, 2003

Being bilnigual and wanting to do community work is a great start in California. You may want to ask yourself some introductory questions...

1. do you wan to get involved politically? some sorts of work are less political than others ranging from working on a campaign [very political] to working with poor people [sometimes political depending on the situation] to readings books at library storytimes [not super political unless you're really unlucky] If you want to stay out of politics, make sure you know that before you start looking for opportunities.

2. do you want to work with your community, another community, or any community? Do you have an age group, an income level or a cultural group in mind?

3. do you have a high tolerance for frustration? some volunteer positions have more red tape and whatnot to deal with than others; if you want to avoid frustration make sure that's clear on the outset. many volunteer and community organizations can work under sort of a triage mentality where you show up at the door and someone says "hey, grab a mop!" others are more likely to give you a specific schedule, training and orientation. People fit well into both kinds but think in advance about what kind you might like.

If you want to get involved in literacy, I'd recommend checking out SFPL, Ameri-Corps [as a volnteer for a program, not necessarily as an americorps member yourself and even the local craigslist which is incredibly active in SFO.

check out SFO/Bay Area Volunteer Info for specific opportunities in your area as well as ideas for what other questions to ask yourself.
posted by jessamyn at 12:25 PM on December 14, 2003

You might consider volunteer tutoring at a children's hospital. Kids who are hospitalized for long periods of time often fall behind developmentally and academically. It's a lot of fun and really rewarding.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 5:35 PM on December 14, 2003

I was also going to mention hospitals, a really large hospital will have a very well organized volunteer system, letting you do almost anything, certainly translation, but also even art related things most likely.

I'm not in SF, but I would try some large non-profit hospitals and see what they have volunteer-wise. Don't be shy about saying what you want to do either, they may not normally put volunteers in the area you like, but they probably would be willing if they knew you had a preference. And many hospitals have an art program of some kind for their patients.
posted by rhyax at 6:26 PM on December 14, 2003

There's also the Volunteer Center of San Francisco.

Also, a thought, about getting something back: Good volunteering opportunities often don't look all that promising before you get started, and only after you become really involved do you realize how rewarding they will be.

(Which I suppose makes them the happy opposites of most jobs, gifts, material purchases, parties, romances -- heck, just about everything else in life. :) )
posted by mattpfeff at 7:37 PM on December 14, 2003

Conflict Alert: I work for the non-profit I'm about to plug.

Consider becoming a volunteer for Junior Achievement. JA programs will take you into the schools to work in partnership with a teacher to bring economic education to a classroom full of students. The commitment to JA is a short-term -- generally an hour a week for between 5 (for students K-6) to 10 weeks, plus some pre-class training and organizational time.

Although many people think of JA as a program which teaches kids about capitalism, JA has been a much different sort of program for the past 15-20 years. For example, our middle grade (6-8th grade) programs teach kids about The Economics of Staying in School and Personal Economic Literacy. A significant focus of our programs is to encourage students to stay in school and also to attend some kind of post-secondary education (not necessarily college) and we do this by helping them understand the impact that education or technical training can have on their basic ability to earn.

I often explain JA this way: we try to help answer the question "why do I need to learn all this?"

Contact info for JA of San Francisco -- or feel free to email me at the address in my profile if you'd like more information.
posted by anastasiav at 9:29 PM on December 14, 2003

I agree with the hospital suggestion above; your Spanish skills would be potentially very helpful. Here in GA we are seeing more and more Spanish-speaking patients but relatively few on the hospital staff speak Spanish. I assume the situation is better in SF, but they might still need translators.
posted by TedW at 7:23 AM on December 15, 2003

I tutor a learning-challenged 31 yo woman (classic blond stereotype) who has the motivation if not the intelligence to graduate from a nursing program with honors. I study with her, I show her memorization tricks, I guide her on testing strategies, everything except doing her homework or taking her tests. After 2 semesters, she is a solid 4.0.

If I didn't have heart disease, I would love to take on 5 more just like her. She has become more diligent about other matters in her life and for the first time in her life she has a savings account. She is reading a new novel and a self-help book each month. Her job performance has improved and she rarely watches a full TV program. All I did was point the direction, she alone took the initiative and ran with it.
posted by mischief at 11:04 AM on December 15, 2003

Response by poster: Now I've got more ideas to go on. Thank you all.
posted by vacapinta at 2:35 PM on December 15, 2003

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