Who Needs My Help?
December 29, 2006 4:02 PM   Subscribe

I want to volunteer and help my community. But there are some caveats.

I live in Vancouver, BC, and want to help my community in some way by volunteering. Some caveats: I do not want to work with any sectarian/religious organizations (I'd love, love, love to help out in a soup kitchen except for the fact that they're all run by various gospel missions). I don't drive, so that leaves out some options. I do not want to solicit funds, signatures or support via e-mail, phone or door-knocking.

I have, in the past, volunteered in provincial and federal political campaigns doing data entry, envelope stuffing, and so forth, but, y'know, that's just no fun. And while I want to help my community, there should be something in it for me, too, even if it's just some interesting work. And I don't like to feel like I'm being taken advantage of; I once volunteered for a nameless organization whose office manager got quite upset with me because I had to work overtime on a night they expected me to help (they thus never saw me again).

I'm an editor, writer and publisher and have some computer tech background and supervisory/management experience. And I'm a big ol' lefty. Socially very liberal, give money to charities, and so forth. Volunteerism is core to my ethos, but I'm having real trouble finding an organization that fits with me. Am I doomed to a life of self-interest?

(I'd love it if anyone had specific suggestions for me; I know about Volunteer Vancouver and similar clearinghouses.)
posted by solid-one-love to Human Relations (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You should look into volunteering for your local public library. I don't know about Vancouver, but down here in Arkansas our libraries are home to many "lefties." Public libraries are non-profit, you won't have to solicit anything, and you should be right at home with books given your job.
posted by starbaby at 4:06 PM on December 29, 2006

Non-profit arts groups are pretty laid back with volunteers. What about a local theater group, experimental film group or gallery space?

Or would you be interested in volunteering at a local hospital? Children's hospitals especially have volunteer groups that are very well organized and appreciated by many. Good luck finding the one that works for you.
posted by dog food sugar at 4:11 PM on December 29, 2006

About the soup kitchen thing: have you looked into Food Not Bombs? That link's for the one in Vancouver. They do food, including soup (at least the one where I live does) and they're pretty politically-orientied rather than religious.
posted by thisjax at 4:20 PM on December 29, 2006

I presume you've already checked out idealist.org?
posted by matildaben at 4:26 PM on December 29, 2006

OK, now I get to show you how very, very picky I am....

starbaby: Vancouver Public Library, like most libraries in BC, use paid workers for everything down to shelving. Never seen a call for volunteers in either a Vancouver Island Regional Library branch (and I used to work for VIRL) or a VPL branch.

dog food sugar: arts groups inevitably want me to sit at a desk and sell tickets, which loosely falls in my mind under the "no soliciting" banner. And I just don't have the empathy to deal with sick kids.

thisjax: I'm also anti-vegetarian, otherwise they'd be ideal. :(

Caveat: I flagged it as noise and brought to e-mail. Too late, I guess.

matildaben: There were no matches for volunteer opportunities in Vancouver.
posted by solid-one-love at 4:31 PM on December 29, 2006

You should just write directly to the heads of small organizations with crappy websites, or crappy copy, or whatever, and offer your services. Explain that you are eager to help but detest the normal volunteer sales jobs, that you're more useful in the editing/writing/tech/whatever capacity anyways.

Somebody's bound to think some extra help sounds fabulous.
posted by shownomercy at 4:34 PM on December 29, 2006

I don't know about Vancouver, but around here there are a lot of adult literacy and English as a Second Language tutoring opportunities. If you can meet your student someplace, they'd have to figure out the transportation.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:40 PM on December 29, 2006

solid: I'm at a loss. What, exactly, in a perfect world would you do? You won't sell tickets/go door to door/deal with an attitude/do paperwork or deskwork/tolerate vegitarians/hang in a room with dying kids.....these are volunteer opportunities and to be helpful, you sort of need to suck it up and do some stuff that needs doing but might not be superfun.


I'm sorry if this sounds critical, but it honestly does not sound like you want to do anything except feel superiorly altruistic without suffering, being bored or otherwise inconveniencing yourself.

How can we help here? Why don't you just donate a coat or buy and donate a hurricane katrina repair kit?
posted by bunnycup at 5:12 PM on December 29, 2006

You say you're interested in serving in a soup kitchen but won't help in a gospel mission - which is a problem since that's where the main soup kitchen action is. I dunno, just set it aside and go help anyway? Where's the harm compared to the help you can offer people who are just trying to survive from one night to the next?
posted by scheptech at 5:26 PM on December 29, 2006

What about a local environmentally oriented group? You could pull weeds with a group dedicated to eradicating invasive nonnative species. You could volunteer at a local animal shelter. I don't know what you define as "community", but these kinds of groups fit mine.* Also, do the groups you're interested in have newsletters that need editing? proofing? layout?

*Caveat: (When I was looking for a group/cause to volunteer for a few years ago, I knew that I wanted it to be something that benefited the community - well, people - but I didn't want it to necessarily involve directly serving people. I've gotten involved in an environmental group doing long-range migration studies, and I get to be outside!)
posted by rtha at 5:27 PM on December 29, 2006

Here, look at the opportunities at this volunteering site. You should be able to find something there. There's also this site.

Go volunteer lets you decide what you want to do before it brings up opportunities.
posted by Salmonberry at 5:47 PM on December 29, 2006

Some ideas:
What about Big Brothers/Big Sisters?

What about contacting a local hospital volunteer group to do reading etc. in the hospital, or a seniors' centre.

In Halifax there was a program for volunteers to go help families with newborn multiples (twins and triplets) in their homes (that helped us a lot with our twins).

Contact the local association for community living to help out individuals/families with disabilities or help out the organization with your skills in writing.

What about a local women's/men's shelter?

Volunteer at any association helping to set up their newsletter. Or if they don't have one, volunteer to write/compile one. I don't know of any organization dealing with disabilities that wouldn't be thrilled to pieces to find people to help. Offer to put together and organize educational materials for parents about disabilities (that the org probably already has).

Even though its history is Christian, the YM-YWCA is not typically Christian in orientation now. They typically have volunteer options.

The options are endless, even if you are 'picky'. Don't give up until you find a place where you can be welcomed for the treasures you offer.
posted by kch at 6:18 PM on December 29, 2006

I just got an e-mail soliciting volunteers who can foster the pets of women who have left abusive homes. Animal shelters and humane societies also use volunteers for this type of thing. Our local humane society also uses volunteers to socialize animals and do basic obedience training with them to make them more adoptable, for instance.

I often see written materials for various organizations that look terrible to me. I sometimes produce documents for organizations I'm involved with--booklets, flyers, tickets, etc. I am a good writer and editor, and also a passable amateur designer, so this is a great use of my skills.

You could get involved in annual bird counts for the Audubon society.

Nature centers in our area use volunteers for all kinds of things, from giving tours and classes to clearing trails.

Museums and planetariums use volunteer docents. Zoos have slots for volunteers as well.

Volunteers are sometimes involved in organizing events--our local zoo has an annual formal dance, for instance, that volunteers help organize, publicize, and staff.

You could think about exactly what kind of work you'd like to do and post an offer on Craig's List.
posted by not that girl at 6:26 PM on December 29, 2006

One problem you'll run into is that you want to avoid the crappy entry-level volunteer positions in order to find something that's sort of a fun, easy volunteer position. The problem with this is that the volunteer world works just like the non-volunteer world: the better positions go to people who have put in their time already.

Partly that's because they involve more responsibility or specific skills, so the volunteer agency has to make sure that the people getting those positions have already proved that they'll stick around long enough and do high-quality work -- but partly it's because those better positions are one kind of reward that an agency can give the front-line volunteers instead of paying them.
posted by mendel at 6:30 PM on December 29, 2006

The United Nations has an online volunteer matching service. It would require a broad definition of "community," but they would likely have a great number of things that fit your skill set.
posted by occhiblu at 7:05 PM on December 29, 2006

AIDS Vancouver always has need of volunteers. They're extremely nonreligious, and you are absolutely doing good work--comfortying dying people.

If not them, is MindBodyLove still doing harm reduction at raves etc?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:06 PM on December 29, 2006

Oh, or AIDS Vancouver Island, of course.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:07 PM on December 29, 2006

I'd just like to nth the humane society / animal shelter ideas. (Unless you're allergic to animals or dislike them, I suppose.) They usually have a lot of opportunities to do 'real work' with the animals as opposed to doing admin/paperwork stuff, and at least in my experience the people there seem to be pretty laid-back and a little less self-absorbed than at other causes. Naturally YMMV there, but maybe dealing with a whole lot of animals weeds out the folks with short fuses.

Anyway, community theater or some other group like that might also satisfy your craving for rewarding 'leftie' work, but I wouldn't expect those people to be as accommodating when it comes to scheduling conflicts. Community theater in particular can be a huge time sink, and if you don't show up when you're supposed to show up, people may be upset. As a longtime community-theater geek, it's not unheard of for people who develop a reputation for unreliability to get 'blacklisted' and stuck with scut work forever.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:17 AM on December 30, 2006

A few options for you:

The Red Cross. They're very strict about being unaligned and nondenominational, no religeous overtones at all (though they do work with religeous relief groups). The RC has significant info management problems and your skills could fit in well there. They also always need communications people. Someone who can help writing media releases is really appreciated. The relief work can be very personal, or you can play a more organizational role, depending on your preferences and abilities. There are many and varied opportunites with the RC.

The Red Cross is a big organization though, and rather bureaucratic. You can feel like a little cog sometimes. On the other hand, they are very well funded, as NGOs go, and can provide a lot of support and training.

Amnesty International is a good choice if you're interested in socail justice. Most of their work is organizational. A big part of their work is letter-writing campaigns (at least the part I've been involved in) and awareness raising. Again, press work is something they always have need for.

Finally, one of the thing I was involved with as a student was a Public Interest Research Group. Very lefty, very secular. There's one at SFU. The PRIGs tend to be the people organizing campaigns and demonstrations, and such. I can't vouch for them though, that was about twenty years ago for me.
posted by bonehead at 6:22 AM on December 30, 2006

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