I love volunteering. If you’ve never done it, I recommend you try it at least once. I usually volunteer with New York Cares and Jersey Cares. Here are some details about various opportunities in the NY/NJ area.
Paterson marketplace – You show up at this shady looking warehouse in a not-so-great neighborhood and meet some really nice people. Next you get a tour and are put to work on an assembly line putting groceries in bags for people who will be able to pick up the bags at another location later in the week. It’s an easy way to feel like you accomplished a lot because you can see all your labor pile up right in front of you.
Pet Therapy in Morristown – This home has a lot of residents – mostly long-term. They vary from completely cognizant to unable to communicate. The times that I have been here, several dogs and their parents have also been volunteering. It is very rewarding to see someone’s face light up when they see you with your dog. My chihuahua is a good fit for a lot of the people because they can hold and cuddle with her. Big dogs are also great for people who sit in wheelchairs and can easily pet the dogs while they sit next to them. It’s harder for them to pet my 5lb-er that way. The staff here is really nice and welcoming which is also a reason to want to keep coming back.
Pet Therapy in Hanover – This home doesn’t have that many residents. The first time I went, I visited with a few short-term rehab patients. The last time I went, the home seemed to have more long-term residents with larger problems. It was a little discouraging to not know what I was walking into when I met a patient – however, they do have a staff member that will travel with you if you would like. Sometimes the patients and I were unable to communicate and I couldn’t tell if they wanted to see my dog or not. However, knowing that I tried and possibly brightened their day was reason for me to keep going. There were also residents of all ages that were completely cognizant and were able to have meaningful conversations with me. Knowing that I will always be able to make at least one person happy makes the visit worthwhile. On my last visit I also brought my youngest cat with me. The patients really got a kick out of seeing how Mimi and Milo love each other.
Jersey Cares Day – My sister and I volunteered for the Martin Luther King day of service 2013. We felt like we didn’t accomplish much; we each painted just one pole in the auditorium. The day is only for a few hours in the morning. Nothing much can get done in such a short amount of time. I feel the day could be used better. People are willing to volunteer; they just need direction.
New York Cares Day Fall – I really like to attend these events…..but I also see how they can be managed better. For example, during the Fall 2012 event, I met some really nice people; however, the day was very wasteful. Most of the projects were painting murals on walls of elementary school, which is great; however, the leaders put way too many people on one mural. This leads to people knocking into each other, waiting for other people to move out of the way, etc. If people were spread out more, the tasks would get completed in a more timely manner and more tasks would get completed in general. There seems to be a lack of organization. This isn’t to say that the days are not great and useful, but it is disappointing to know that day could be so much better.
New York Cares Day Spring – This year I was Site Captain for the day and I saw a lot of the background preparation for it. Unfortunately, that’s where most of the problems lie. My location was Cunningham Park in Queens, which is one of the largest (if not the largest) volunteer sites they have. At one point, I had 215 volunteers signed up for just that one day. Again, I ran into the issue of NY Cares’ lack of organization. When running a group this large, organization and preparation is key. In the week coming up to the event, I kept trying to plan and keep my team leaders informed but was unable to do so because NY Cares kept throwing curveballs at me – extra teams, not enough supplies, etc. Fortunately, my Park Supervisor was very experienced and knew what to expect. He and his team really saved the day. We all had to improvise and come up with quick solutions to keep all the volunteers happy and active. Being uninformed reflected badly on me when it was the lack of organization and follow-through on their part that made the day not flow as well as it should have. Overall, it was a good and productive day but NY Cares really needs to get their act together if they ever want me to even think about running a day like this again (or to recommend the job to someone else).
Gala Gear: Prom Dresses for Underprivileged Girls – Gala Gear is a company that was started by a couple of regular people and has quickly expanded over the past few years into a great organization. I highly recommend them to either donate your gently used or new dresses or your time/money. The session I volunteered at was very organized with sections for dresses/accessories/shoes/makeup and check out like a real store. Volunteers’ tasks were to help the girls find dresses, be excited, straighten up and keep the girls moving to the different areas. Almost all the girls in my session found a dress and seemed really appreciative of the gifts they were given. Last year I donated bridesmaid dresses to Princess Chambers in Brooklyn which is a similar prom dress donation organization so if Gala Gear is not in a convenient location for you, please search for another organization to donate your dresses and accessories.
Library Book Reshelving – Overall good project – especially if you don’t really want to interact with others. You feel really productive getting all the books back in their correct spot and it’s a quiet (obviously!) environment where you can just do your thing and move on.
Basically, just get out and volunteer. If not with one of these organizations, then with another place that needs your help. It really will make you feel good and help others in the process. I swear I get more out of volunteering than what I give. AND your mileage is tax deductible 🙂
We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give – Winston Churchill