OK–you’ve got it in your head and heart that you want to do a volunteer vacation. Traveling somewhere away from home and outside your normal circumstances (and likely outside your comfort zone) gets you jazzed and inspired. The planning can be a bit mundane, just like any travel planning and logisitics, but there are a few specialized services and organizations that can smooth your path.
Fly For Good has a volunteer travel portal that helps with planning, brainstorming, researching types of service work and/or destinations that excite you…and best of all…can find discounted flights for volunteers who are working with international NGOs or 501(c) 3 non-profit charitable organizations. Discounted travel for volunteers…It’s nice to get a little good back for all the good you’ll be doing, and anybody who makes it easier for us to make a difference in the world, is making a difference themselves, by empowering us. Have a look around just for mind candy or when you’re ready to do your actual planning.
The Fourth of July. Freedom, Liberty, Independence. As we celebrate all these things with the required explosives and overeating and hopefully a lot of laughter and love in your life…maybe a category for potential volunteering might suggest itself from the day’s theme. Or as the opposite of the day’s theme. As we laud all things free, have you considered that what may strike up your volunteering spirit (like striking up the band to hit it with the “Star Spangled Banner” one more time) would be working with prisoners and those who are incarcerated?
Jails and prisons make use of volunteers in so many ways, and your work can truly change the life of someone who doesn’t have the freedoms you enjoy today. Habitat for Humanity does Prison Partnership volunteering to get some of their most important house building projects done. So many prisons use volunteers from the community for workshops, lectures, re-entry training and job interview skills for rehabilitated prisoners, and more. San Quentin, for instance, has a spearheading program that is also in place among other prisons throughout California, called the California Re-Entry Program. California is not alone–volunteers do important work in the prison systems in pretty much every state and community, so surely there is an opportunity near you. PVS (Prisoner Visitiation System) tries to set up volunteer visitors to federal and military prisoners throughout the nation’s systems so those who don’t get contact might be able to reach out and be heard. This is a program bringing visitors in to Death Row, solitary confinement, and long-term/life sentence prisoners or others whose family/life circumstances might mean they don’t have regular visitors. The Prison Book Program stocks and staffs with volunteers, the libraries at prisons around the country. Prison Pet Partnerships does fantastic work with visiting dogs programs as well as pairing prisoners with dogs to train as guide and service dogs (there are plenty of other fantastic dog programs with youth in jails as well).
Here, randomly, are some more programs (and the links tot heir volunteer information pages)–I promise you can find one in your area if you’d like to be a prison volunteer: New Mexico Corrections Department, Pennsylvania Prison Society, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Tennessee Department of Correction, Chicago Books to Women in Prison, Arizona Department of Corrections.
Whether helping someone study for their GED or other schooling, ministering via your spiritual tradition, job training, life skills teaching, drama or writing or other arts programs, working with youth, volunteer visiting, animal visits and training, or that giant mountain of volunteer administrative support (especially as states cut back on budgets and employees), you can be of tremendous service to the prison system–a nice way to ponder freedom today, and tomorrow…
Ben Stiller is a smartass. We knew that–it’s why we love him. He is able to send up serious situations that bring levity while still being respectful (though not necessarily exhibiting outer respect). We see it in films and TV appearances, and I saw it when he hosted the final evening of last year’s Clinton Global Initiative. Sometimes we can’t believe we are laughing in light of such seriousness, being in the presence of majesty (literal and figurative) and victories over suffering and the face of so much suffering still to be vanquished–and there’s Ben, goofing on it all and on us. Well, he’s at it again–blessedly. He has launched a new foundation, STILLERSTRONG, and uses as a catch phrase “Stealing Great Ideas from Other Charities to Build Schools in Haiti.”
Stiller actually started his work before the January quake, inspired by a visit to Haiti in 2009. He has already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to build schools in the country, in partnership with Architecture for Humanity, Causecast, and the Global Philanthropy Group.
“Our goal is to help kids get back in school as quickly as possible,” said Stiller. “Schools are a safe haven for kids in times of crisis, and are instrumental in delivering not only education but also healthcare, nutrition and other critical services.”
I hope I’ll see Ben when I’m there building schools in August. Flashing a little Blue Steel. We are not on the same project, but have the same dream and goal for helping heal Haiti.
I’ve written before about bone marrow donation. How it is a huge necessity, a huge gift, but not as huge a sacrifice for the donor as it once was (and may still seem in our imaginations). The important thing is to get as many people on the donation register as possible. You are statistically likely to register then spend the rest of your life never being a match for someone in need. But what if you were? What if that one person that could likely die without your help, could be saved? By you.
Sign up to receive an easy Q-tip-like swab kit you simply wipe in your mouth, on the inside of your cheek, and mail back so they can test and establish your donor profile. That’s it, for now. Nobody is going to stick you with anything sharp. It is just getting yourself in the computer bank so that if a match ever comes up, you will be notified that you can be the answer for another. But for now, just register. www.getswabbed.org
This little girl in the photo above and video below, Shanon Tavarez, just made her Broadway debut as Little Nala in The Lion King a handful of weeks ago. Then, in April, was diagnosed with AML Leukemia. She needs a bone marrow donor to save her life, and is currently undergoing chemo every day. That’s the face to this. It isn’t hypothetical, it is real, and your impact on the world is real when you reach out this way.
As I get closer to booking travel to Haiti to do a volunteer gig, I’m paying even more attention to other organizations that are on the ground there, starting the long hard efforts of recovery and rebuilding.
Soles 4 Souls is an organization that collects gently used as well as new shoes from distributors and private citizens, and distributes them in nations of need. Their work in Haiti since the January earthquakes has helped protect the feet of thousands of Haitians, as well as additional philanthropic work done by the organization, including a shelter for displaced residents built from discarded shipping containers. It is a definite step up from tents or tarps. The great thing about Soles 4 Souls is that you can travel with them, not just for shoes distribution, but for additional service project work as well. The trips that are open to international volunteers can be found here. There are several Haiti trips upcoming as well as Mexico and Honduras. SO think about getting out into the big ol world this summer or fall, and making a direct difference…one pair, one person, at a time.
That’s the average cost of a human life in today’s slave market. TODAY’s slave market. People tend to think that since slavery is illegal in every country in the world, that illegality must have made it go away. In fact, there are 27 million slaves RIGHT NOW, and on average, every 36 minutes, a slave is trafficked into the United States.
I’m at a loss as to how to reconcile my life with a world where slavery still exists. My world view didn’t include this except in past tense–as a history lesson. And I’m not OK with it.
Join me in getting involved to stop slavery. FreetheSlaves.net will help you educate yourself and those around you, and open your eyes to ways to step up and take a stand. Singer Jason Mraz just spent 5 days in Ghana to find out more.
Mraz spent his time in the country traveling rescue shelters for slaves – as well as Challenging Heights, a school in Winneba founded by a former child slave, where many students are former slaves.
According to Free the Slaves: “We don’t waste time debating which kind of slavery is worse — brick kilns or carpet looms, sex or domestic, new or old — it’s all horrible. Slavery is a dark slash across the heart of all humanity. We believe there are no easy answers to eradicating slavery. But there are answers from the people who are enslaved and those helping them to freedom. There is no single path to liberation – the paths are many – we will tread them all before our job is done.”
Sign up for newsletters and calls to action. Be involved at any level, but BE involved.
Photo: Africa Adventure Consultants
For some reason, African Safari trips have lately been coming up in conversation around me much more than usual. I cherish the memories of my trip to South Africa and Zambia, and can’t wait to get back, repeatedly. There seems to be something in the air/season as so many people I know are all talking about going for the first time , or returning soon. I suspect it is more than just the ubiquitous attention on the World Cup in South Africa, but perhaps that is why the destination is top of mind now, in particular.
Africa Adventure Consultants and AfricAid are teaming up to provide you an opportunity to have a trip-of-a-lifetime safari (and believe me, you will never forget the safari experience) while contributing to the Kisa Project for scholarship and leadership training for young African women. The portion of your safari cost that is donated will provide a two-year scholarship for one girl’s education. AfricAid provides funding for scholarships, school building projects, leadership training, vocational and teacher training, school supplies, school lunch programs, and it works in conjunction with the local initiatives of Tanzanians and other African leaders committed to education.
This 13-day In-Depth Cultural Experience & Wildlife Safari is in Tanzania and boasts game viewing in Tarangire, Ngorongoro Crater, and Serengeti parks, village visits to AfricAid-supported schools, accommodations in luxury tented and mobile camps and lodges, meals, land transfers and more. The wildlife experience will be one of your life’s treasures—I promise—and the difference you make, directly, in the life of a young woman will, in fact, impact our entire world. Opening a door in this way ushers a young woman to greatness, and THAT is worthwhile whether you get to see the Big 5 or not.
OK–this one has gotten hold of my imagination and won’t let go. My friends at Elevate Destinations are facilitating volunteer vacation trips to help the rebuilding efforts in Haiti. This is a 15-day trip in August or late November/early December, to do construction work at Jacmel, a port town where 70% of the buildings were damaged in the January quake. You’ll be doing construction work at a free community school, building a computer lab and classrooms. Conditions are tough, work is in the heat of the sun, accommodations are on the floor or in tents (or for an additional cost, at local hotels/guest houses), and meals are basic (peanut butter, bread, fruit, beans and rice. Grocery stores and restaurants are nearby), and the difference you will make is HUGE.
For a while there was no way for lay volunteers to be effective in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, if anything we would have been in the way during emergency rescue and recovery work, but the time has come for rebuilding and working alongside Haitians to recover and heal communities—an effort that will take years. This project, a blister-your-hands, exhaust-your-body, enrich-your-world, fill-your-heart work trip committed to the children of Haiti, is a chance to truly immerse yourself in service. Anyone who has ever done construction work knows, at the end of the day, you can look back and see what you created that was not there in the morning. At the end of these two weeks, there will be facilities that will be used by, and enrich the lives of, generations to come—because of you.
I’m already looking at trying to make my schedule work…shall we meet there?
Is it possible as the seasons roll over and thermometer readings climb, that we begin basking a bit more in the sun and find ourselves a tad less motivated to get out there and move mountains? I know it works that way for me. Whether it is too hot, or the general sense that folks are all on vacation so there is less community bonding, or just finding convenient ways to put off until tomorrow what I very well could be doing today…
If, on the other hand, you find yourself with your schedule shifting for the season (perhaps your company gives Summer Fridays off or reduced schedule, or the kids are out of school so you’re cutting back on hours at the office for some family time, or you are self-employed or freelancing and potential employers are checked out until fall…) and there’s a surplus of hours and intention, but you’re not sure where to funnel your energies…try a resource like TakePart.
With TakePart, you can team up with like-minded people to take action for the causes you care about, or learn about new causes. Add Members Project to your profile, where you can vote for your favorite charities to receive funding from American Express, volunteer your time, or donate.
You can create your own new charitable outreach program, or join the forward momentum of others that are blazing new trails. It is grassroots organizing and community gathering, and you are an important cog in the works. Environment, Animal Welfare, Global Health, Science & Technology, Government & Politics, Crime & Corrections, Business, Poverty Issues…choose your cause, and jump in with the time you feel comfortable dedicating.
It is all about that first step, the rest follow down a more clearly marked path…
Brooklyn’s Coney Island has been on unsteady ground with sales and collapsed sales and re-buying offers—it seemed for a while that the nostalgic summer funland was done once and for all, but this weekend, Coney Island, now re-branded as Luna Park, is re-opening for the holiday and summertime.
A big part of any old school amusement park is clowning–freaky to some–it is such a short trip from happy clown to scary clown–clowning is, at its roots, all about fun and laughter.
Here are but a couple of clown-connected volunteer opportunities, if you’re feeling red-nosey.
Patch Adams was yukked up on screen by Robin Williams in the eponymous movie, and the story is based on a real doctor who sees laughter as the best medicine. The Patch Adams Gesundheit! Institute in Pocahontas County, West Virginia uses volunteers who work 35 hours a week helping build clinic space and other support construction as well as take clown workshops and work with kids. You’ll have to take your laughter seriously, but won’t empty your pockets as there is no charge for room and board beyond your hard work.
In Rio de Janeiro you can work for a 2-week stint with Volunteer Abroad and teach Circus Arts to troubled and at-risk youth to help in self-expression and creative outlets for tie and energies.
Obviously one of the most recognized clowns works for that fast food company with the golden arches. What you may not know is the absolutely phenomenal work being done by the charitable arm of that burger biz, Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times. This astounding camp in the foothills of California is completely devoted to kids with cancer. Volunteer camp counselors make a 9-day commitment for a 7-day camp session (2 days of training) and you can be part of this life-changing experience.
amusement park camp/cancer kids