Beliefnet
Reprinted with permission from BYG Publishing.

Have you ever thought about volunteering your time to a local charity or community organization? There are many different reasons for you to start volunteering:
  • To help others
  • To learn about an activity or organization that interests you
  • To beat boredom (if you find yourself sitting around the house feeling totally bored, volunteering in an activity you enjoy can be a great way to change things)
  • To overcome a loss you have experienced (one of the best ways to help yourself in a time of loss is to help others)
  • To gain perspective on life (there is no better way to understand your blessings than to help people in need)

Your reasons for volunteering are as individual as you are, but no matter what your reasons you can get a lot out of volunteering. You can learn about yourself, learn about others and meet a lot of interesting people by volunteering. You can help others as you help yourself.

One of the hardest parts of volunteering can be finding a volunteering opportunity that fits your personality. The following list will give you lots of different ideas and will show you many different possibilities. Look in your local area until you find a volunteer position that works for you.

1. Homeless Shelters
If you live in a city of any size, then there is at least one homeless shelter that helps homeless people with meals, beds and other services. Most homeless shelters welcome volunteers and have a variety of programs through which you can get involved. You might help prepare or distribute meals, work behind the scenes in the business office, help organize a food drive to stock the pantry, etc. Look in the phone book for a local homeless shelter if you are interested.

2. Food Banks
Food banks often work with homeless shelters, but they also serve poor people living in the community (especially around the holidays). Food banks collect food, manage their inventory and distribute food to those in need. The following links show you the different volunteer opportunities available at several food banks around the country:

  • Greater Philadelphia Food Bank (this site also has a good link that describes what a food bank does)
  • Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana
  • St. Louis Area Foodbank
    Any food bank will offer similar opportunities in your area. Look in the phone book for a local food bank if you are interested.
  • 3. The Guideposts Sweater Project
    If you would like something to do in your spare time at home, one innovative way to volunteer is to get involved in The Guideposts Sweater Project, sponsored by Guideposts magazine. People around the country knit sweaters that are then sent to needy children around the world. This article gives you a description of the project and a pattern for the sweaters.

    4. Ronald McDonald House
    There are Ronald McDonald Houses around the country--almost every major city has one. The idea behind all Ronald McDonald Houses is very important. When a child is seriously ill, the child is frequently treated for long periods of time at a hospital or university medical center. Many families have to travel long distances to get to the hospital, and "where to stay" becomes a problem. Staying at a hotel becomes extremely expensive, and a hotel can be a lonely and sterile place. Ronald McDonald Houses provide a low-cost "home-away-from-home" for parents and children to stay during treatment. Volunteers help prepare meals, talk to families, take care of the house and so on. The programs offered at the Dallas Ronald McDonald House are typical, and you can read about volunteer opportunities there. Then call the Ronald McDonald House in your area to find out more.

    5. Special Olympics
    As described on the web site for Special Olympics International, "Special Olympics is an international program of year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with mental retardation." The site also describes a wide variety of volunteer activities, including sports training, fund-raising, administrative help, competition planning and staffing, etc. Look in the phone book for a local office or search the Special Olympics web site for more information.

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