By Jeffrey Bridgman
The following is a random, fictional conversation which very well could take place anywhere in the country this month between two average girls.
Jen: Here we are in the middle of summer, again! What have you been doing so far?
Barb: Working again at (insert boring retail or fast food restaurant here).
Jen: (After gasping with horror and dread, following a slight pause) I know! You should totally volunteer somewhere (giving a dorky thumbs-up)!
Dreading another boring summer? Consider a vacation with a purpose—volunteering. Rather than using your time off to go camping or to some lame theme park, you could be having the kind of adventures you watch on the Travel or Discovery channel, all for a good cause.
Volunteering vacations can also be a wonderful way to do something related to your career interests. For instance, if you’re interested in helping third-world countries develop sustainable infrastructure, you could find a project that offers hands-on experience in this area, which, in turn, could help you decide if you really want to commit to this line of work.
How Far Do You Want to Take This?
Volunteering vacations are available as close as your home state and as far away as Timbuktu. If you’re thinking about going abroad, a great place to start in finding a volunteering vacation is VolunteerAbroad.com, a searchable database of projects in almost every country and type of work imaginable. Their sister site, goabroad.com, also has many useful bits of travel information, as well as search fields for other “going abroad” options, such as studying or teaching.
Wait, I have to pay?
I said volunteering vacation, not free vacation. Yes, most programs have a cost associated with them, but in essence you are making a donation to a good cause. Most organizations that offer volunteering vacations are charities, and so the costs of your trip might even be tax-deductible. Many places also provide help with fund-raising. If the volunteer activity is religious in nature, consider it a mission trip and ask your church family to help out.
Speaking of church families, how about contacting the local missionaries that your church supports to see if you can spend some time helping them? Think how exciting it would be to spend a month in Japan helping with missions, with your own personal tour guides. It’s a great way to learn about a foreign culture, do some sightseeing and help reach people for Christ.
Closer to Home
Want some time in the great outdoors? Volunteer with a state or national park. The U.S. National Park Service uses volunteers to clear trails, guide tours, do historical reenactments dressed in period clothes and lots of other essential park functions. Search by state or park to learn more at www.nps.gov. The American Hiking Society offers opportunities to work on trails and facilities in national rivers, forests and wildernesses. And there are tons of other options that a thorough search on “volunteer vacations” will turn up.
Dirty Duck Call
But if you want to go where you’re really needed right now, get yourself to the Gulf of Mexico! Check out How You Can Volunteer to Clean Up the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Register for a Green Job Now where you’ll find direct links to coordinated efforts by Audubon, Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation and others. Jobs range from food prep for all the other workers, to nitty-gritty stuff like cleaning oil off of birds. It’s work, no doubt, but wouldn’t it be cool to have a part in the clean up of the worst oil spill in history? Sounds more meaningful than breakfast with Mickey.