Volunteering Locally

By Sharon Naylor

April 9, 2013 6 min read

"Charity begins at home but should not end there" is an iconic quote, attributed often to 17th-century English clergyman and writer Thomas Fuller. Fuller advised to take your charitable works outside your home to the world at large -- and you might not have to go very far from home to make a tremendous difference in the world, or even in your little corner of the world.

Volunteering is on a big upswing. According to a recent study by the Corporation for National and Community Service:

--In 2011, the number of volunteers reached its highest level in five years, as 64.3 million Americans volunteered through an organization, an increase of 1.5 million from 2010.

--Americans volunteered a total of almost 8 billion hours, an estimated economic value of roughly $171 billion.

--A majority of Americans assisted their neighbors in some way, and more than a third actively participated in a civic, religious or school group.

That last statistic is one of the reasons that giving-minded people are often volunteering locally. They frequently choose a local cause, school, animal shelter or other establishment as the recipient of their volunteer time and efforts.

"I like to volunteer locally, whether it's planting flowers in the town center or helping with storm damage recovery at the nearby dog parks," says retiree Aloma Schaeffer. "It's very gratifying to see the results of my and my friends' work and to see people in town enjoying it."

Volunteering locally can give you a sense of pride and accomplishment on a regular basis, and that can be more gratifying than writing a check toward a charity's coffers. And it provides other perks: It's a social activity, connecting you with other like-minded people who share your same love for animals, education, nature, the arts and so on. It may also provide regular exercise, as in cleanup work in public parks. A company that has volunteer events not only enjoys the intangible rewards of helping but also benefits from the company name's getting out into the community. And there's also the opportunity to be a leader, to start a local charitable activity or group -- which can be a terrific way for retirees to keep their entrepreneurial and leadership skills going.

Teens and children, too, benefit from their own or family group local volunteering, enjoying a sense of accomplishment and absorbing the important value of giving. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, the average annual volunteer rate for teens between 2009 and 2011 was 26.2 percent.

Here's how to get more involved with local volunteering opportunities:

--Check the website VolunteerMatch. This group "strengthens communities by making it easier for good people and good causes to connect." Plug in your location and categories of interest, and you'll find many listings of upcoming charitable and community events needing volunteers, plus the details of the volunteer work and amount of time required from you.

VolunteerMatch has more than 74,000 active opportunities nationwide, with more than 91,000 participating organizations and major corporations, providing a wealth of choices. A quick search for eco-friendly and local volunteer positions will turn up opportunities to work on environmental cleanup projects, animal and wetland protection, and other programs.

--Contact local animal shelters to ask about their eco-friendly needs. Even a shelter that is not certified as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, facility still needs supplies that are healthy for their animal residents and for the workers at the facility. Eco-friendly cleaning products and paper towels are always on shelters' donation wish lists, so you might volunteer by buying donation items or mobilizing a donations drive for these items, as well as for organic animal food, toys and medicines.

--Contact your children's school to arrange or help with a donation drive to benefit an eco-friendly cause. The school's environmental club may be interested in parental assistance and networking, and according to an Earth911 informal poll, 84 percent of that site's readers said they'd be more willing to recycle if it benefitted a charitable cause. Your community, then, might be more willing to gather up their old tech gadgets, batteries, computer ink cartridges, clothing and other items if they know they're helping the local school benefit a charity or the eco club itself.

--Contact your town hall to ask about planned community beautification events, such as May Day flower planting in the town center.

--After a major storm that damages your community, check with your township about sanctioned volunteer opportunities, such as sandbagging and manning volunteer stations via an organized group working with first responders and energy crews for community-rescuing legwork that can get your local area back on its feet more quickly.

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