16 Ways You Can Help Build up Your Community and Smash Hate

Fighting on, as forces of darkness gather

by Stephanie Kaloi


Right now a lot of us are trying to do anything and everything we can to bring down a Trump/Pence administration. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of work—as in years—and the United States is massive, which doesn’t lend itself well to overnight change. That doesn’t mean that resistance is futile (it’s anything but), but it does mean that a lot of people are feeling like even their best effort may not do… anything.

If there’s one way you can subtly burn down the status quo (the status quo being bigotry and hatred, as prescribed by our soon-to-be leader), it’s by getting heavily invested in your community—by digging in deep to where you live, doling out your time or your dollars (or both), whatever you have to give. It’s by supporting people who might be different from you, who might stir up feelings that leave you overwhelmed, or confused. Maybe you avoid people with disabilities because they make you nervous, or you steer clear of the elderly because age freaks you out, or you don’t actually know anyone outside your race or religion or socio-economic status—it happens. But keeping ourselves in our safe boxes—whether it’s on purpose or not—keeps us alienated from one another, and especially keeps us alienated from those who need the most help.

This time of the year, it’s easy to write a sweet and sappy, “Let’s go volunteer for a day around the holidays, it’s in the spirit of things” post, supply some links, and move on. But today we’ve got 16 ways you can volunteer—and luckily, you can do all of these all year long, not just when we’re all trying to be merry and bright.

if you want to volunteer with kids and families

tutor elementary kids in reading: This is actually one of my favorite ways to volunteer my time. When I lived in Alabama, I found a city-run program that matched volunteers with second and third graders near them. When I lived in Oregon, I knew people who volunteered with the local SMART branch. Taking sixty minutes out of your week to sit down with a kid who wants to learn to read is good for everyone’s soul. You can also use this site to search for a literacy center near you, and inquire about volunteer opportunities within.

teach high school STUDENTS how to navigate a fafsa: I was a first generation college student, and when it came time to do my FAFSA, I had to figure it out myself. It wasn’t easy at the time, but it definitely gave me skills that are valuable, and they’re the kind of skills that a lot of high school students need. As far as I know, there isn’t a nationwide program that recruits volunteers specifically to connect them with high school students who need help with a FAFSA, but there’s nothing stopping you from calling your neighborhood high school principal’s office and asking if there’s a need.

Find your local Boys and Girls Club: Sure, you’ve seen the billboards, but have you ever stopped to see what the Boys and Girls Club is all about? They’re always looking for mentors, volunteers, class leaders, and more, and they’ve even made videos that will tell you about the experience.

pay off someone’s layaway balance: You have probably heard of this idea before, usually around the holidays, but it’s so good that it’s worth bringing up in case you haven’t. A lot of big box stores (think Wal-Mart and K-Mart) have layaways, where customers can pay off an item (or a group of items) a little bit at a time. It turns out that anyone can pay off items—or even just pay a little bit. If you find yourself with $50 extra around the holidays, why not find your local store and swing by layaway with it? You never know whose holiday you might be rocking.

My husband and I actually did this one year. We walked into our local K-Mart, picked up a few items we needed, and then asked the cashier if they offered layaway, and if so, how we could pay on someone else’s account. She told us yes, they offered layaway, and the cashiers could make payments. She asked who we wanted to pay for; we told her to pick someone, and we could pay $50 on their account. She chose a co-worker who had three little kids, we handed over the money, and everyone felt like they had done a good thing.

Of course, not every store offers layaway—but you can find a list of the ones that do here.

Donate toys to families in need: If you pay attention, there are numerous toy drives around the holiday season. You might not have ever paused to think about it (or you might donate to them every year), but there are an awful lot of kids in our cities, states, and countries who simply don’t receive toys, ever, for the holidays. And sure, no one wants a house full of stuff their kids never touch, but I similarly think that few people want a home without anything that brings joy to their children. People in poverty always need extra love, and never is that more true than during holidays that are often crowded with displays of abundance.

If you’re not sure where to find a toy drive, you’re in luck: major toy stores almost always host them. In fact, Toys R Us hosts the Toys for Tots program every year, and they have thousands of locations.

Hold babies in the NICU: If you haven’t spent a lot of time in a NICU, you might not realize that there are several hours throughout the day when quite a few babies aren’t held. The reasons for this vary—maybe the parents of the child both work full-time and can’t always be there, maybe the child is going to be placed into foster care, and so on. My son was born two months early, and I made a promise with the universe: deliver him out of the NICU safely, and I’ll come back and donate my time to the NICU in return. He came home a month after he was born, and two years later I contacted the hospital’s volunteer program and the spent six months holding babies once a week, and it was heaven.

It was also really easy to set up—my hospital’s program had an online application, and within two weeks they had called me and set up an orientation. I was required to be up to date on vaccines and to get a few tests and shots (think TB and flu). I’m generally a big fan of holding babies to begin with, but holding babies who are in the middle of waging their own battles (or who at the very least are spending a lot of time away from their parents) felt extra good.

if you want to volunteer with refugees and immigrants

host a refugee family: That extra bedroom could probably make you bank on Airbnb, but it could also probably fit a family who needs help. If you live in the UK, Room for Refugees can hook you up. If you’re in the US, look into the International Rescue Committee, which has operations in more than a hundred US cities.

Before you dive in, though, it’s important to gain a little perspective. For starters, do a little research on who will be served and why. While news reports of the Syrian refugee crisis are numbing and painful to watch, it’s unlikely that you’ll receive a Syrian family in your home—people who have an active asylum claim often don’t have much, but are generally given somewhere to sleep. But there are hundreds of thousands of people who are refused asylum but who can’t return to their home countries, and they’re usually the ones who are most in need of an extra room.

The next step is to find charities and organizations in your region who offer this service. Sometimes you host for short stints, and sometimes people need to stay much, much longer. If you’re in the UK, this Guardian article has a list of organizations at the bottom. In Canada? Try this site. Each organization will have their own requirements and guidelines, so some legwork might be required of you.

Also relevant, especially if you specifically feel moved due to the on-going Syrian crisis: if you have a child, you might be able to hire a Syrian au pair on a J-1 visa, and if you own a business, you might be able to hire a Syrian student on a J-1 work study visa.

Sign up to drive people to appointments: Maybe you don’t have the space to host refugees, but you do have an hour once a month to drive someone to get their green card, to pick up groceries, or make sure they get to a doctor’s office on time. I found an organization near me last year by googling “Help refugees in [my city]” and periodically (maybe once every three months) am asked if I can take someone to pick up a paycheck or something similar. I’ve also been able to take my son with me on these excursions, which means his worldview has been broadened while we’ve helped someone who is new to our country feel a little more comfortable. Volunteer Match is a helpful tool that allows you to search by your location and keywords (“refugee”, “disability”, etc.), and will then point you to organizations where you can be of service.

help support undocumented families and/or migrants: There are several organizations in place to this end—and if you don’t live near a border, you can always donate to the organizations. If you do, Border Angels might be a place to start. One of their key initiatives is the Border Water Drop, since dehydration is the leading cause of death of migrants. You bring a backpack with supplies for yourself and one to two gallons of water to leave (psst: you can also donate to the Border Water Drop fund).

There are also charities that offer immigration services, and they’re always looking for volunteers to assist. Catholic Charities is one such organization (though they’re based in New York).

if you want to volunteer with your community

stop by a home for the elderly: One of my favorite volunteer experiences ever happened because my husband worked at a home for people who have dementia and/or Alzheimer’s. My son and I started visiting once a week or so, stopping by to say hi to my husband and to meet some of the residents. We quickly became quite fond of many of them, and asked for a copy of the activity schedule. We would both go by when we knew they were doing something kid-friendly (since he was four to five at the time), like playing with a parachute or tossing a balloon around the common room. At first I was absolutely nervous (man, do we have a lot of negative stereotypes about people with these conditions in our society), but the more we went, the more comfortable we all became. It’s also profoundly rewarding to hang out with people who are several decades older than you, especially when you take time to get to know more about their stories and lives, and this can be as easy as googling “homes for the elderly + [your city]” and sending an email to see if they need volunteers.

go serve soup: It’s kind of a volunteer cliché, but soup kitchens definitely exist, and they could definitely use your help (and not just at the holidays). Community Kitchen is a great resource if you’re looking for one.

become a public guardian: Many states in the US have Public Guardianship programs, which means are designed to help people who are sixty years and older and who are wards of the state. They often have no family, friends, bank, or organizations willing to help them manage their day-to-day and bigger picture affairs, and that’s where you step in. I had actually never heard of this until I started writing this piece, and found several state-funded programs throughout the US by simply googling “become a public guardian + [state name]”.

Religious? get involved at your place of worship: If you’re religious and looking for a faith-based volunteer outlet, your very own houses of worship tend to be up on community and poverty outreach.

if you want to get political

get to know your local party branches: Maybe you didn’t phone bank or canvas this election cycle—that’s fine. But your local political branch offices are pretty much always working on something. Sometimes it’s presidential races, sometimes it’s city council races, and sometimes it’s both. My point is that you’ll never know unless you get in touch, and in my experience, these guys are always looking for more people.

make phone calls: If you’re living in the here and now and want to take a stand on an issue that matters, you can call your representatives and tell them how you feel. For example, if you’re in the US, you can actually call Paul Ryan and leave him a message about how important the ACA is (call 202-225-0600, listen to his spiel, and then leave a message with your support). You can also call every company on this list and let them know you’re boycotting them because they do business with the Trump family (as long as you really are boycotting them), and this spreadsheet has the phone numbers of every representative in the United States, plus scripts in case you get stuck, on every topic from healthcare to immigration to gun violence. Americans can also use this site to find out who represents them by zip code and get in touch accordingly.

if you want to donate your money

Before we dive in with links and options, first know that donating money is every bit as meaningful, helpful, and badass as donating your time. If you have the cash on hand and want to give it away, you’re pretty cool. There are any number of organizations who will be happy to receive it, and before you start dishing out dollars, it’s good to think about a few things:

what issues matter the most to you? Are you concerned about women’s reproductive rights? Homelessness in your city? Protecting disability rights? Transgender rights? Racial equality? And so on. Depending on how much money you’re setting aside, pick an issue or three, and then find an organization.

Organizations we love: Save The Children, Black Lives Matter, UCP, Cerebral Palsy Foundation, ACLU, Planned Parenthood, World Wildlife Fund, Dakota Access Pipeline Donation Fund, National Pediatric Cancer Foundation, SIGN Fracture Care International, Fistula Foundation, Action Against Hunger, United Nations Foundation, Hand Up, Coalition for the Homeless, Kiva, Project Bread

Do you donate your money or your time? What organizations would you add to this list? What tips do you have for people who want to give back?

Stephanie Kaloi

Stephanie is a photographer, writer, and Ravenclaw living in California with her family. She is super into reading, road trips, and adopting animals on a whim. Forewarning: all correspondence will probably include a lot of punctuation and emoji (!!! ? ? ?).

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  • Christina McPants

    The list that I would love to see is where you can volunteer with toddlers and small children. Most of the googling I’ve done has had suggestions like “have your three year old pick out toys to give to a toy drive!” And yes, that’s great, but is there somewhere I can volunteer and not have to spend $50 on a babysitter? It makes me wish I had a church community because usually childcare is built into those programs.

    I’ve done some searching and it looks like diaper banks and visiting senior centers are probably the bests.

    • MC

      Cup of Jo just posted about doing a bake sale to raise funds for ACLU & there were some good ideas in the comments about other ways to volunteer with children: http://cupofjo.com/2016/11/bake-sale-for-aclu/

    • stephanie

      We’ve brought our son to volunteer tons of times, since he was around 18 months old. I’ve found that you just have to ask — most of the time, they’ll find something you can do that will possibly engage your kid, or is doable even if you have to take breaks to chase a kid. HandsOn branches are, in my experience, especially good about having opportunities small children can go to. We’ve taken our son to pull weeds, to clean up roadways, and to help clean facilities and reasonable success.

    • stephanie

      AND: yes to senior centers. They will be so, so happy.

      • LadyMe

        Not necessarily for small small children, but elementary age: my girl scout troop from kindergarten up through grade 6 was based in a senior living center. We’d trick or treat there, play bingo with them, sing carols at Christmas, and help in the garden. If anyone has kids in a scouting troop who might just meet at their school or something, might be worth looking into partnering with a senior group.

      • NolaJael

        Great suggestion. Just bringing a bubbly toddler to a senior center is a service. :)

    • NolaJael

      If any of your community groups offer a low-cost “parents night out” type of thing you could volunteer to watch other kids and bring yours along as a playmate. Or you could start one with an organization you’re connected to!

    • Emily

      I work for a local homeless shelter/lifeskills office/clinic/food bank and I never considered that we should let our volunteers know their kids can come! We have a couple of ladies who volunteer and have asked to bring kids/grandkids and we have TONS of stuff they can help with. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

      • MsDitz

        When I was a kid my mom used to volunteer for the free food pantry it had on sight and would bring my sister and I along. One of my earliest memories is stacking the little jars of baby food into pyramids while my mom helped customers.

    • Meg Keene

      Yes. This is huge for us. Most stuff I’d have to do during the work day, because of kids. But Stephanie’s senior center suggestion is a good one!

    • Sarah E

      As a kid, I always went along with my mom and grandma when they drove for Meals on Wheels. I could help sort things, and it was my job (from my booster seat in the back) to hand over the appropriate # of hot/cold meals from the cooler for them to deliver.

    • kris10

      If you have local Big Brothers/ Big Sisters chapter, becoming a “big” is a great opportunity that works well with young kids. My partner is a Big Brother, and my toddler loves it when he gets to hang out with his “Uncle” (partner’s little). Partner and little still do things one-on-one, but I think it’s really valuable (for all parties involved) to get some experience with a different type of family dynamic.

  • LadyMe

    When looking at toy drives, don’t forget about teens. I have family members who work with teens in the system, and a lot of time they’ll get stuff like encyclopedias or copies of Nat Geo when they really wanted a basketball or something. Donations also tended to be lower for teens in their area so there wasn’t always enough for all the kids the drive was targeting. And it’s tough when they’re teens so they don’t want to act like they care, but they actually do.

    • Ashlah

      Yes! There’s an annual toy/clothing drive here where you choose a kid and buy them the gifts they request, and there are always a bunch of teens leftover because no one thinks they’re as fun to shop for as the little ones. Which I can understand, but it’s sad, so I try to make sure I pick at least one younger and one older kid when I’m able to contribute.

      • rg223

        Well, in defense of the gift-givers, I’ve noticed teens sometimes ask for things that are prohibitively expensive, at least for me and my budget. I always try to pick a teen, but I can’t afford to spend more on them than I spend on my own family members. But, if you’re finding this is the case, maybe you can get a friend or two to go in on it with you!

        • Ashlah

          Oh totally, I’m definitely more likely to pick a teen who asks for clothes or gift cards than one who asks for an iPhone or Beats by Dre headphones. That’s a nice thought on going in on something big with a group, though!

    • Rebekah

      Yes! My good friend is a CPS worker with teens and they’re doing a holiday drive. She said teens mostly love gift cards because it gives them autonomy but that people don’t donate because it’s not as fun as buying a cute toy or outfit for a younger kid. She also recommended household stuff like kitchen pots, pans, towels, cleaning supplies, and other stuff that’s particularly helpful if you are young and have your own place/room in a house.

  • louise danger

    to add to the donation-orgs list: Sierra Club, Anti-Defamation League, Heifer International

    IRC (and many other organizations!) also often accepts donations of gently-used, clean clothing and supplies, if money and time aren’t things you’re able to give. reach out to your local chapter (they have one in most middle-to-large cities) and find out what they need; this time last year, my office was looking for household items (cleaning supplies, personal care things, etc) but this year, they are in need of cold-weather clothing – jackets, scarves, boots, etc.

  • emmers

    Thanks for this! This inspired me to go ahead and book my train ticket for the Women’s March on Washington on January 21. I also saw that my city’s International Rescue Committee is accepting household items for refugees, so thanks for the heads up! Going to try to either round up gently used stuff to donate, or give money or something.

  • MC

    Love all of these suggestions. I’d also add that if you want to get involved with local nonrpfits in your area, one of the best things you can do is offer to volunteer in their office doing rote tasks or “grunt work.” I’ve worked/volunteered for a few small & understaffed organizations and we have lots of interest for our hands-on, direct service volunteer opportunities (which are often more of a time commitment than people think in terms of training and scheduling), but what we never have enough volunteers for is the less flashy work – stuffing envelopes & sending out mailings, data entry, organizing & filing, etc. If you don’t mind those kinds of tasks, it is a HUGE HUGE HUGE help. Signed, a nonprofit employee in the midst of hours of data entry.

    • NolaJael

      Yes! I used to volunteer as a dog-walker at our local no-kill shelter, but I made sure to volunteer for the dish washing or laundry rotation regularly. The puppies were obviously more fun, but the “experienced” and dedicated volunteers always got stuck doing the dirty work. It was good to give them a hand.

    • rg223

      I was going to suggest this too!

    • LizGB

      As a socially awkward introvert and computer nerd, I’d actually much rather do “office work” type of stuff than man phone lines or work with a lot of people. So this is good to know!

  • Amy March

    My college and law school alumni groups have lots of volunteer opportunities as well.

  • toomanybooks

    You can volunteer to hold babies???? And this is considered a service to the community??? Where do we sign up

    • LadyMe

      Usually a google search with your local hospital + NICU volunteer will get you there. My local hospital also has a program where people can volunteer with their (well-behaved) dogs to visit children in the hospital.

      • emmers

        I like the well-behaved emphasis. Mine would enjoy volunteering– but everyone else would not. ;)

    • Ashlah

      That program is super popular at our local hospital, which is obviously really great, but also terrible because they aren’t accepting new volunteers D:

    • Meg Keene

      Yeah, apparently not in Oakland, because it’s all full!

    • Meg Keene

      Related though, when I was in High School I did volunteer work doing childcare at our local battered women’s shelter. It was hard… I still think about those kids. But super meaningful.

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    I’m gonna go ahead and plug the Girl Scouts. (I’m a volunteer troop leader.) Your local troops will be working on some volunteer and community service projects, and would love your support. They’re and inclusive organization, and are teaching girls leadership and life skills in the process.

    • Also, it’s worth noting that GSA usually has *terrible* scores for large quantities of donated money going toward administration instead of into action. But I think back to my very disorganized local council, and how it was staffed largely by single moms and …I just don’t care that donated money is “wasted” on Girl Scouts admin.

      • I always boggle a little at people who are annoyed by administration costs – like, I appreciate that you thought the Syrian refugees would get £10 worth of blankets from your donation, and learning they’ll only get £5 is hard, but how did you think those blankets were going to get there? They need buying, they need shipping, they need custom forms, they need GPS, they need drivers, they need addresses… Charity is a lot of paperwork, and though volunteers help with that, if you want your money to be spent efficiently and accountably, you’re going to need professional administrators.

        (but I still resent charities who spend large amounts on paying chuggers; the chugging companies are parasites feeding off charities, bullying supporters, and guilting their employees into manipulating people for commission)

      • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

        Give.org reports that as of September 2015, GSUSA’s budget broke down to 87% programs, 3% fundraising, and 10% admin costs. CharityNavigator.org rates them an 86.9 out of 100 on a collective Financial, Accountability & Transparency score. I wouldn’t qualify those numbers as terrible. But I’m sure your local troop would be happy to have a discussion with you about where your support is going, if you’re interested in helping them.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        Different organizations are organized differently, but a lot of national/parent organizations suffer from seemingly high administrative costs because what they do is provide the administrative services for local organizations that are too small to show up on a lot of the charity review websites.

        I don’t know about GSA, but Ronald McDonald House, for example, is just a pass-through organization. It doesn’t actually own or operate any family housing near children’s hospitals. Local affiliates do that. So if you look at what the national organization reports to charitynavigator or the IRS, it looks like it’s hugely administrative, but that’s because it’s providing tons of administrative support for the front-line organizations.

  • lamarsh

    My parents volunteer weekly at their local YWCA, which is an organization not usually top of mind in the usual list of places that people volunteer. The YWCA’s overall mission is eliminating racism and empowering women, but each local Y has its own programming. My parents’ local YWCA provides housing and job education/training to women who are getting out of abusive relationships. My parents watch the kids while the mothers attend class once a week — it has been an incredibly rewarding experience for both of them. (Also, it has the added benefit that when people ask my mom when she is going to be a grandma, she tells them that she gets to hold babies at the Y every week, so she isn’t worried about it.) Anyway, just another organization who could use volunteer help if there is one in your area.

    • I’ve been meaning to sign my kid up for swimming lessons and have been debating between the YWCA and another local swim club. Definitely choosing the Y over the swim club for these very reasons.

  • JC

    Don’t forget your local library, community theater, and museum or historical society! We’re going to need their wisdom in the coming years.

    • LadyMe

      The flyer board at your local library is also a great place to look for local volunteer organizations that are active but may not have a website.

  • NolaJael

    One caveat on volunteering in nursing homes: My mother is a social worker and used to encourage volunteers to seek out *not for profit* nursing homes to connect with. For-profit institutions advertise that they provide music, games, etc, when meeting with prospective residents, so if you show up to “volunteer” you can inadvertently just be providing a service that they would otherwise pay for while they pocket the difference. :-/

  • Just Me

    These are great! I’m going to sign up with my local boys and girls club to hopefully help out with homework 1 day a week.

    I would love if APW (or readers) had tips on how to form a more naturally diverse community. What I mean by that is….my little social bubble is super white/college educated/privileged. I’m definitely interested in volunteering but I would like to make more FRIENDS of all ages and races and socioeconomic status rather than just being the person HELPING someone who doesn’t look like me. Because I’m a home-body with a close-knit family nearby, I haven’t really pushed myself outside the bubble in a while and I’d like to dip my toes into growing a community. Any ideas? I’m in Northern CA if that makes a difference.

    • NolaJael

      I think if you find one thing that you can do regularly and commit to going weekly/monthly for a set period of time. Like a community music group or something on Meet Up, etc. Genuine friendships take time.

      Also, work your network! (Such as it is…) If you’re at a party and someone brings someone with them that’s older/younger/Republican/WOC and y’all hit it off, ask your mutual friend if the three of you can go out to lunch, etc.

    • Amy March

      I joined a local young professionals happy hour- its nominal focus is local politics, and since my city is very diverse has attracted a big mix of people. I know our local volunteer group that does park beautification attracts people of all ages- so you might be able to start working together with people on a project and gradually develop friendships.

      • NolaJael

        Great suggestion!

    • Anonymous

      Is there a Big Sister org in your area? I absolutely love “volunteering” with them (in quotes because all I do is hang out and go on fun adventures with an awesome little girl). Great way to build a friendship with someone out of your age/background circle.

    • Sara

      I know its been mentioned here before, but Meetup.com helped me expand my circle of friends!

    • Lawyerette510

      In addition to the other great suggestions, I’d also suggest looking for places to work-out (if that’s something you do) that have diverse members/participants and diverse instructors/staff. I’m in Oakland and a lot of the diversity in my social group is the result of connections and friendships made at independently-owned workout places that are owned by or seek to be welcoming to people of different backgrounds and groups.

  • NolaJael

    This is an amazing list, Stephanie. Thanks for the thought you put into it. This topic has been on my mind a lot over the past few years, obviously magnetized in the past month. I’m really concerned about the waning of community organizations of all stripes (along the lines of Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” theories) and the way capitalism has replaced general community groups with specialized and individualized pursuits. This list was a breath of fresh air.

  • Sara

    Something small you can do while shopping for holiday gifts – Amazon has a charity version of their webiste smile.amazon.com where you can pick a charity and they’ll donate a .5% of eligible items to them. I use it for my local humane society, but they have a ton of charities in it. So if you’re already using it for buying gifts…


    • Ashlah

      Ugh, I always forget to do that! I literally just bought stuff this morning.

      Along the same vein, if you have a Kroger/Fred Meyer/Fry’s loyalty card, you can set it up to donate to the charity of your choice. Ours is linked to our regional Planned Parenthood.

      • Jess

        There’s a setting you can do to automatically redirect you to Smile so you don’t have worry about just typing in Amazon or clicking links! Do it now!

        • Ashlah

          Thank you! It looks like I need to download a browser extension? There’s no setting in Amazon that I’m seeing. Is that right?

          • Jess

            I think so! I’d did it about 8 months ago, so I don’t remember all the details.

    • CMT

      Amazon Smile is great, but they donate such a small percentage of what you pay. I mean, anything is better than nothing, but I just checked and I’ve generated $4.69 in the year and a half I’ve been using it.

      • Eenie

        Yup. I also think on the charity end you need a minimum amount to actually “cash out” (I researched it a while ago so this may not be accurate still).

  • itsaprocess

    This is a fabulous list- really insightful and diverse! Thank you for posting it. I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector my whole life, and I have two thoughts to add:
    1) Please be mindful that this time of year (in the US, at least) is THE most popular in terms of volunteering. Which is awesome, but it means that sometimes your ideal opportunity just isn’t available right now, and also that, come January, a lot of these volunteers are never heard from again. Contrary to our usual assumptions, volunteers aren’t free for the orgs that use them (developing a volunteer program, managing the people who give their time, and even buying snacks all costs $$). If at all possible, try and find a program that you can stick with over time, and you’ll make a HUGE difference (and you’ll feel a greater impact on your life).
    2) Shameless plug for my own area of interest, but since it wasn’t mentioned here: consider volunteering for an organization that supports prisoners and/or their families. There is so much that can be done (from mentoring kids of incarcerated folks, to writing letters to people who otherwise would not have any contact with the “outside” world, to making copies for an org that is trying to get folks on their feet when they come out despite having no professional staff).
    Thanks again for getting us thinking/talking about how to make changes and give back. <3

    • Meg Keene

      Do you have suggestions of orgs that do this kind of work? That’s something I’d be really into.

      • itsaprocess

        Yes, so many #thanksforasking! The thing about prison work is that most orgs only operate in one state. BUT y’all are in Cali, which, along with NY, has tons of great things going on in this area. Some suggestions include:
        Critical Resistance: http://criticalresistance.org/
        Justice Now: http://www.justicenow.org/ (who, btw, just got gentrified out of their space and is looking for new office location in Oakland if y’all have any leads)
        California Coalition for Women Prisoners: http://womenprisoners.org/
        Legal Services for Prisoners with Children: http://www.prisonerswithchildren.org/

        Some of these orgs are all volunteer-run, some of them may be anti-profit (non-gov’t regulated so donations to them MAY not be tax-deductible). If their website seems stale, usually FB is the best way to get in touch, but these are pretty active orgs so you should have no problem hearing back.

        Hope that helps! If anyone needs help finding ways to get involved in other states, feel free to get in touch!

    • BSM

      This Amazon wish list for kids whose moms are incarcerated in Illinois is floating around again. I ended up buying to dolls dressed as doctors :)


      • Megan

        What an awesome (and easy!) way to help. I was about to buy a toy for a local toys for tots drive on Saturday and just added one to my Amazon cart before checking out. Thanks for sharing!

  • emilyg25

    If you’re in the Hartford, Connecticut, area, there’s an organization there called Career Beginnings that helps first-generation students apply to college (http://hartfordconsortium.org/programs/career-beginnings). I volunteered with them several years ago and found the experience very rewarding. And I’m still in touch with my mentee!

    Something I’ve been looking into is becoming a Court Appointed Special Advocate (http://www.casaforchildren.org/) for children in the foster system. It doesn’t work with my schedule right now, but it’s a great way to help out someone who really needs it.

  • MsDitz

    As a teacher of low-income students, thank you for suggesting tutoring! It really does make a difference, and is fun for the volunteer. I used to work at a school that used Reading Partners, and from my experience it is a fabulous organization that also provides training, in case anyone is nervous at the idea of just sitting down and reading without any guidance. Please check them out!

    • BSM

      Another plug for Reading Partners! They do great work, are a well-run org, and have opps to volunteer at a lot of different schools.

    • anachronismsarah

      I’m a reading buddy! Which I am guessing is like a local version. I loved getting to see the improvement! AND the built up confidence!

  • LikelyLaura

    Just a note about the NICUs – they need baby stuff! Ours told us they don’t get budget for things like infant swings or rockers, which, as many parents know, can be a huge help for fussy babies. Also, all the clothes they had were donated, so giving newborn size onesies, pjs, sleep sacks, etc would be great. (FYI – Gerber newborn clothes were the smallest we could find in normal stores.) The NICU my son was at was one of the nicest in the area, and they still didn’t have all the “extras” that you might expect.

    • Sarah E

      I’m not sure, but maybe send the donation to a refugee organization, or a local women’s shelter. If it’s not an explicitly babies- oriented NPO, but one focused on helping people set up a home, I bet they would make good use of them without any propaganda attached.

      • LikelyLaura

        Oh I love the refugee org idea. Thanks!

    • Danielle

      We actually have an org in my area (not near you, unfortunately) focused exclusively on providing diapers for low-income families: http://www.columbusdiapercoalition.org/

      I wonder if there would be something similar in your area? Perhaps try googling something like “dallas diaper donation” or variations on that.

      • LikelyLaura

        That’s awesome! And yeah, I’ve googled it a few times, and only came up with places that I couldn’t figure out if they were still up and running… I even called one and didn’t get a voicemail or anything.

        My husband works across the street from a planned parenthood. He brings them pizza sometimes when the protesters get bad, so he is going to see if they have any recommendations next time he stops by.

        • Danielle

          That’s really awesome of your husband :)

  • willowptarmigan

    If women’s education is important to you, there is a small scholarship fund that provides scholarships to women attending a woman’s college: https://www.thesunflowerinitiative.com/

    It was started by a group of women from my college after we went co-ed, and it is a great organization.

  • Trillian


    This article was interesting – I really liked the comment:

    “America is a country that was established on the ideas of Enlightenment philosophers and improved upon not merely by legislation but also by social movements: this, to Obama, is the real nature of its exceptionalism. Last year, at the fiftieth anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, he stood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in Selma, and defined American exceptionalism as embodied by its heroes, its freedom fighters: Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, John Lewis, the “gay Americans whose blood ran in the streets of San Francisco and New York”; its Tuskegee Airmen and Navajo code-talkers, its 9/11 volunteers and G.I.s, and its immigrants—Holocaust survivors, Lost Boys of Sudan, and the “hopeful strivers who cross the Rio Grande”


    “And your job as a citizen and as a decent human being is to constantly affirm and lift up and fight for treating people with kindness and respect and understanding. And you should anticipate that at any given moment there’s going to be flare-ups of bigotry that you may have to confront, or may be inside you and you have to vanquish. And it doesn’t stop. . . . You don’t get into a fetal position about it. You don’t start worrying about apocalypse. You say, O.K., where are the places where I can push to keep it moving forward.”

    And this last comment

    “The thing that I have always been convinced of,” he said, “the running thread through my career, has been this notion that when ordinary people get engaged, pay attention, learn about the forces that affect their lives and are able to join up with others, good stuff happens.”

    It seems to me that a lot of the recent articles and comments in APW are about how people are committing to engaging with their communities and in the long term this will be an enormously positive outcome for American society. It’s so life affirming to read all the different ideas people here on APW have to help change the world – while there are bad people in the world it is reassuring to see so many good people here who are thinking about other people, having empathy having courage to do good work. You are a wonderful community

    • anachronismsarah

      SO many things for me to scribble on post-it notes and tuck away and remind me why I do what I do. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • This is more on the political side of getting involved, but attend local town meetings! Our county sheriff’s office recently had a series of town hall meetings, and only about 10 people came (and there were like 40 officers presenting/attending lol). I was pleasantly suprised by their commitment to community engagement (they specifically said they didnt want to be like the police departments in Ferguson/Baltimore/Chicago) but it was still a good opportunity for conversation. Read your local papers and follow police/city departments on social media so you make sure you know about community forums.

  • LizGB

    Thank you for this list.

  • Amy Sigmon

    I just signed up with TNachieves, a program in Tennessee (obviously) where I’ll mentor 5 HS students navigating the college application process. TN offers 2 years of free community college, but many kids get frustrated with the process, and they’ve found that mentors make a really big difference in helping students make the high school to college leap. As a grad student I fill out the FAFSA every year, and it frustrates ME. It’s a really low time commitment, and I get to work with students right in my community- I was able to pick the local high school a couple miles from my house. Unlike the heavy holiday volunteering, this is something that starts in January and then I’ll move through the school year with my assigned students.

  • ElisabethJoanne

    Email your elected representatives. It doesn’t really matter what about for the point I’m making, which is that most of my elected representatives send out periodic emails about events where you can meet and talk to them, and other community events.

  • cml

    Thank you for this! I periodically go on fb rants about actually getting involved in the community & post links…but this time all I need to do is share this awesome piece!
    Love all the comments as well. I’d add The Concordance Academy of Leadership for anyone interested in helping people returning to society from prison. They are currently focused on the St. Louis area, but have big goals to expand.