Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How to Volunteer (part 2): Get Out of Town

Is volunteering a regular part of your life? Can you think back to the last time you served someone? Are you looking forward to the next time? Are you ready to do it for the first time?

Volunteering has become such a part of the American landscape that most high schools have a community service requirement. Whether you are 12 or 82 you can get involved in your community or the world at large. Looking to find your way?

This is the second post in a series of How to Volunteer
If you want to read the first post first, I'm not going to stop you.   I'm also not going to enforce any rules or tell people that you didn't go in order.    This could be your small rebellion for the day. 
Get Out of Town 
Where were you on 9/11?    Do you remember taking (or wanting to take) action to help?   I was off work that day and while running errands in Reno, stopped by the blood donation center.   They had a line out the door and could not take any more donors.     They told me that the need for blood would continue and could I come back in a week or two?
Think back a few weeks to the first tornado that hit Moore, OK (there has been another tornado in OK since then...and probably more to come).  Almost immediately you could make a financial donation.   But what about a donation of time and service?  One organization that I follow on Facebook, Mercy Chefs, deployed their mobile kitchen within 24 hours.   And they were looking for volunteers from Oklahoma and neighboring states who could assist. 
When disasters strike in the US, people want to help right away.   Even if they don't know what to do or where to go.   If you already have ties to a service organization (ie, you're already a trained volunteer with Red Cross), you may have the inside scoop on helping on the ground right away.    Often, if you are not close by, the easiest way you can help is by making a financial donation.   For some people, that fits the need to help.   Others are looking for a way to donate their time and skills.   So how can you get out of town to volunteer?
Relief / Services organizations say they don't need any more volunteers right now.   Now what? 
Don't think that your gift of time, talent or energy isn't needed if you can't get in on the "action" when a situation first occurs.     In many cases volunteer help is needed for weeks, months, and even years after the incident. 
After any national disaster, the rebuilding takes time.  Volunteers are needed long after the news coverage ends.    Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.    In 2008, I went with a group from my church to New Orleans and volunteered with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance.    The need was still great.   People would stop us in the Home Depot parking lot to ask how they could get assistance from volunteers.   That was two and half years after the hurricane.   
One of the houses we worked on in 2008 - New Orleans
In 2012 Team Effort had youth work/mission camps in Joplin, MO all summer to help with tornado recovery and rebuilding from the tornado in 2011.   It wouldn't surprise me if next year they have camps in Oklahoma to help with the same.   (read about our mission experience in Joplin here).
How to Find Opportunities
Often it's easier to volunteer in a group with like-minded individuals - especially if you are wanting to travel to volunteer.  Many hands make light work as the proverb goes.   This could be with your church, a civic organization, or a school group.   Look to see what connections you may already have in the location you'd like to go.    Does your company have a store/branch/office there?  Does your community or social group have a chapter there?   Do you have a sister church there?  
These contacts are on the ground and can better assist you to find out what help is needed and where.   You might be thinking about running a clothing drive.   Your friend/colleague who lives there might tell you that gift cards to grocery stores and gas stations are what is needed.
Relief and Service organizations may have information posted on their websites as well.   Red Cross has a detailed page on all the ways to volunteer.   
Plan Ahead 
Take the time to research the location, the people you want to serve, and what the needs are.   Often, volunteers need to bring supplies or donations, as well as raising funds for travel.    The bigger the group, the more time you'll probably need.   How will you get there?   Where will you stay?  How will you get around?   What do you need to bring?  Do you need skilled labor or just willing hands?  The time you spend in planning is worth it.   
Start a Family Tradition
A friend once told me that she and her family try to find a way to volunteer in some capacity, even if it's just for an hour or two, every time they go on vacation.  It's a chance to meet people they wouldn't normally meet on vacation and a chance to reinforce the value of service with their children.    Maybe it's playing with animals at the shelter.   Participating in a park cleanup.   Serving food at a soup kitchen.    She said that sometimes finding a task was easy...and sometimes it required a lot of creativity.    
Volunteers are Needed.  Consistently. 
You don't have to wait for a disaster to get outside your comfort zone to serve in another city or state. Food pantries, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, children's programs, and home building/repair take place daily in cities all over the country.   You just need to say, "How can I help?"
Have you ever volunteered in another city or state?  
Where did you go?  What did you do?  How did you get involved? 

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