Monday, February 9, 2009

The Challenges of Volunteering Locally

One of my resolutions for the new year was to get actively involved in a local charity. So far, I have not made much progress on that.

What has been the issue? Well, for one, I've had very little non-work and non-recuperating from work time so far this year. But for the other, I'm a little daunted by the prospect.

Over the past year or so, I have tried to get involved in a handful of different organizations in the New York metro area, and have not had any luck. Usually it was because my emails saying, "I really like your organization, and I'd love to volunteer; what do I need to do to get involved?" never got answered. At least one place flat-out rejected my professional skills after I filled out a lengthy application.

It was very frustrating, to say the least, to search out organizations whose missions seemed up my alley, approach them, wanting to help, and then hear nothing back.

One national organization I did finally get accepted into, after an application, references, and a background check, turned out to be not very user-friendly for new volunteers. They had a website with all sorts of materials, but it was not really clear how exactly to get involved with a local group. And then I found out that there were no hands-on opportunities within my geographic area.

That's why Mayan Families has been such a godsend. With them, it's easy. You sponsor a child; you start getting information about that child; you can send them additional food, a stove, chickens, etc. You find out about all sorts of other needs of the organization, and can get involved in as many as you would like. And you are welcomed with open arms when you come down to Guatemala to visit.

Sisterly Shenanigans' Tricia and me getting ready to distribute toys in San Jorge, Guatemala.

I want to do similar kinds of good here in my local area, but I have found it very difficult to break through. has a clearinghouse of all sorts of volunteer opportunities, and I receive a weekly opportunity notice. Unfortunately, I have tried to get involved in some of these opportunties, but have received no word back.

I'm sure that most of these organizations would like to have the additional volunteer support, but are just so strapped for resources that they can't take advantage of the offers of help. After all, they would need someone to read the email and respond to it, and I'm sure many organizations get hundreds of emails a day.

It's just too bad, as I suspect I am far from the only person who has had this kind of disheartening experience. I wonder how many people have been discouraged from attempting to do something to make a change in their world. Why can it be so difficult to get involved?

But I am ready and willing to give it another try, and I plan to share my journey with you, so as to get more ideas and to pass along anything I learn.

I just found out today from VolunteerMatch about an action day called "Do One Thing." It is taking place next Saturday, Valentine's Day. The objective is for everyone to do one thing on this day to help homeless youth.

A participating organization is the Covenant House in New York, which is just a short distance from where I bus into the city. So the location is easy. What they ask is for donations of clothes and personal care items for the young people who come to them from the streets. Now that's easy, too.

So, I plan to collect some donations, bring them to Covenant House, and find out a little bit more about what they do and how to get involved. Ideally, I'll see if I can interview some people and get a tour, so I can blog about that. Something like this at least allows me to get my foot in the door.

I want to know: how have you gotten involved in volunteering locally? What challenges did you have to overcome, and how did you finally get your foot in the door?


alexlady said...

wow holly, thanks for all the great links! I LOVE that shot of you with all the toys. :)


Kellygirlnyc said...

I tried to begin volunteering with Big Brothers/ Big Sisters in NYC and had a really hard time getting through to anyone in person about what it's like to be a part of the organization. I have to admit, other things began to take priority and I drifted away from the idea that I could help. I think that's really problematic in a way. Do you think more people would want to help if they made it easier?

Holly said...

I wonder if it's a big city thing. For example, I wonder if it's easier to get involved when you're in a more clearly defined community and there are not as many options, both for volunteers to find causes and for causes to find volunteers. Here in New York, if an organization isn't diligent about following up with prospective volunteers, they know they will probably have more come their way soon enough.

I don't know. It's frustrating! I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one with this experience.