Giving back

Today, I presented a program on creative volunteer opportunities at my former Rotary club in Brandon, Florida.  

I love Rotary and volunteering.  Both are wonderful ways to reach out and give back. 

I don’t think I will ever stop volunteering, it is just too much fun.  

In January of this year, I spent 10 absolutely fantastic days as a volunteer at the Sundance Film Festival

In late July 2009, I returned to the States after serving three years in the Peace Corps in Macedonia.  

For more than seven years, I volunteered for libraries and traveled throughout Florida and to Washington DC to advocate for libraries. (I spent another 11 years working in public relations for a library.) 

In the 80’s, I had interesting and wonderful adventures as a docent at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo: I took boa constrictors (yes, the big ones, and no, snakes are not slimy – they feel more like a full bicycle tire) and other animals to schools for programs, and explained to visitors about the lifestyle of lions. (They sleep a lot!) 

I also have sweet, sweet memories of being a classroom volunteer when my boys were in elementary school. 

Each of my volunteer activities was a result of Wishful Thinking and was a great place to begin creating the life I wanted.  

I took time to discover my true passions: helping, learning, and getting to know people and blended them with some of my top interests: family, nature, libraries and film.  

The combination provided me with rich experiences, and inadvertently led me to overcome some of my biggest fears: snakes and learning to speak a foreign language were just two of them! 

Today, I shared my volunteer experiences and some suggestions and tips for finding new ones. 

Since I am a big recycler – I always try to use jars and presentations more than once – I thought I would share some of the articles and resources I gathered for my presentation with you.   


Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more people are volunteering:  from 2008 to 2009 the rate rose from 26.4% (61+ million) to 26.8% (62+ million). 

Women volunteer more than men (7% more) and 35 to 54 year-olds are most likely to volunteer.  

Marrieds (32.3%) volunteer more than singles (20.6), and the higher your education, the more likely you are to volunteer. 

Tips for getting started:   

One of the growing trends in volunteerism, as described in this Washington Times article is, “Volidays“, a combo of a holiday and volunteering.  There are costs involved, but the rewards usually outweigh them and some of the trips are tax-deductible.  

I liked this article as a starting point.   These also caught my eye: Midwest Weekends and USA Today  


Two of the classics and also the longest time commitments: Peace Corps and AmeriCorps.  Many of the younger Peace Corps volunteers I served with did AmeriCorps first, and loved it.   

Senior Corps and AARP are good options for 50+ folks. 

Popular volunteer vacation sites: International Volunteer Programs AssociationGlobal Volunteers,   Pueblo Ingles, United Planet, VolunTourism, Workaway,  and World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.  

Many religious organizations offer a variety of volunteer options for summers, camps, and missionary work.  Just search the Internet using the denomination or religious order you are interested in and the word “volunteer”. 

Closer to home: National Parks and Sierra Club.  

Volunteer Match and All for Good can direct you to more than 100,000 non-for-profits, or you can list yours with them.  

Volunteer Match notes they have: “61,404 Active Opportunities, 71,459 Participating Organizations, and 4,749,800 Referrals Since 1998” 

All for Good was developed as a result of Obama’s campaign urgings for more folks to give back. Silicon Valley was targeted and professionals in technology, marketing, academia, and non-profits joined forces to create the site, which is Google hosted.  

Don’t forget to check with your local library and literacy group.  Teaching people to read or to speak English will change their lives and yours, and may put you in touch with a new culture. 

And, for a bit of a twist, here are three interesting work-study/volunteer programs I have considered: Esalen,  a favorite of Joseph Campbell, and Glencree Center for Peace & Reconciliation in Ireland,  Nyingma Volunteer Program (a Buddhist program – there  are many in California.) 

If you are more of an armchair volunteer – not to worry – Virtual Volunteering may be perfect for you. 

Bottom line – no matter what your aspirations and interests, there is a creative volunteer match for you. 

Simply search the word describing your field of interest such as: “art” and the word “volunteer”, and explore a new avenue for giving back. 

I truly enjoyed seeing my old friends and meeting new ones this morning at the Brandon ’86  Rotary Club, which all of its members know is “The Best Rotary Club in the Whole Wide World”, and is filled with fun, dedicated volunteers.  

The food was great, too!

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