Even though the economy is hurting, volunteering in the United States has jumped last year in the fastest rate in six years. 63 million gave of their time and energy. The death of the American spirit and generosity is at its best says the CEO of the Corporation of National and Community Service. This is the nation's largest federal agency grant maker supporting service and volunteering. Many organizations are responding to the demand by offering more service options, which creates volunteer positions that appeal to baby boomers, retirees and young people.
Volunteering patterns have changed and baby boomers, in particular, want more say in how they serve. The challenge for volunteers is to find the best fit for themselves whether it be five minutes, five hours, or five days. Regardless of your tastes, temperament or availability, a wide range of opportunities can be found.
Disaster Relief would be for those who seek an adrenaline rush and have a flexible schedule. The largest emergency response group is the American Red Cross with over 90,000 disaster workers. 55,000 volunteers can be deployed nationwide. Getting a call at 3 AM to help a family whose house is burned down is a great way to get your feet wet. You can also become deployed to various disasters such as floods, tornadoes or wildfires. Other disaster relief groups are the many faith-based organizations like the Salvation Army. It has 3.4 million volunteers for emergency response. Retirees often volunteer for two weeks at a time and can respond to ethanol plant fires or hurricanes on the Gulf Coast. The Salvation Army did send volunteers to Haiti after the earthquake in January but usually responds to US disasters. Volunteers can deliver food and drinks; provide emergency shelter, clean of services and communications. Catholic Charities USA and Samaritans Purse are two other faith-based groups that deploy volunteers when a disaster happens.
A Second Act is a growing trend of skills-based volunteering. Volunteers with significant work experience want to segue to new service careers. Experience Corps has about 2000 members and connects retirees with elementary schools to help teach children to read. It's important to find a passion when you retire. Prospective volunteers must've formally apply and submit to a personal interview and passing background check.
The largest network for people 55 and older is Senior Corps which links more than 500,000 individuals to service opportunities. The largest, the Retired Senior Volunteer Program has members helping 60,000 local organizations tutoring and mentoring children, assisting victims of natural disasters, improving the environment, and conducting safety patrols. They also provide business and technical support to nonprofits. Senior Corps also has two other programs: Senior Companions help the elderly maintain independence by assisting them and Foster Grandparents mentor and tutor children.
If you're interested in an extended commitment the Piece Core has international posts and AmeriCorps has a program to serve domestically. Established under Pres. John F. Kennedy in 1961 the Peace Corps has sent nearly 200,000 Americans to serve in 139 countries. Teaching English is in high demand in many parts of the world. Besides gaining invaluable skills and fluency in foreign languages, Peace Corps volunteers get other perks, including medical, dental benefits, living allowances, student loan help, vacation time and job placement support. AmeriCorps uses volunteers to help address critical needs in education, public safety, health and the environment here at home. The AmeriCorps application process takes a couple of weeks and there is some upfront training. Each participant gets a modest living allowance, a $5,030 education award to pay for college related costs and student loan assistance. There are three applications for every position, but you can boost your chances by applying to multiple programs.
Volunteer Vacations combined a vacation with service. You can build homes in Mexico or help build a town in Ethiopia. Habitat for Humanity is one of the largest organizers of volunteer vacations. No experience is necessary. Volunteers pay for their airfare and about $100 a day to cover building supplies, room and board and transportation within the country. Most projects require manual labor, so you should be in good health. There is also Globe Aware which hosts one week volunteer programs around the world. This group allows vacationers to come as families. A volunteer vacation is not for those who like to be pampered. But if you enjoy experiencing a new culture, meeting people and working with other families and feeling like what you do matters this is a great option.
Virtual helping hands through United Nations Volunteers looks for virtual assistance for a wide variety of needs. It is very flexible and there are many organizations such as www.volunteermatch.org and HandsOnNetwork or DoSomething.org, which specifically matches people with service options. From my own experience Walmart was the best option to volunteer in my local community. They did not pay me of course but I was able coupon book enjoy the Walmart perks. By the way if you are looking to find Walmart promotions online, check local newspaper flyers or coupon books.
Lastly there is do-it-yourself volunteering. The AARP's Create the Good program has created downloadable how-to guides from organizing river cleanups and holding school supply drives to helping others get good healthcare. There are many upsides of self-directed work. It is usually more intellectually engaging since you are organizing and problem solving and doing your own research.