Tag Archives: voluntourism

How To Find Volunteer Opportunities While Traveling in the U.S.

This is part of our (almost) weekly How To Series.

We are now volunteering an average of 15 hours per week while traveling by car throughout the United States and Canada.  We have volunteered for a wide variety of different projects and hopefully sharing how we get connected can help you get more involved.

Jay and Sharon at Materials for the Arts

Our volunteer project in New York with Materials for the Arts

First, a few caveats:

  1. One time volunteering is not a long term solution to any of our country’s challenges.  I encourage everyone to discover what they are passionate about and make a lasting commitment.
  2. If can often require a lot of planning on your part and on the part of the organization for just a few hours of volunteer work.  For me the planning and then sharing the experience afterwards is all part of the experience and makes it worthwhile.
  3. This advice may not be useful to non-U.S. citizens that are traveling in the U.S..  Some organizations have restrictions on how international visitors can volunteer their time.
sharon in big bad wolf costume

Volunteering at Wabi Sabi Thrift Store in Moab

What kind of volunteering can you get involved with on a one time or flexible basis?
  • Environmental clean ups
  • Trail building and maintenance
  • Sorting donations at a thrift store
  • Shelving and boxing food at a food bank
  • Assisting with nonprofit events such as festivals, charity runs, holiday galas, and silent auctions
  • National Days of Service  provide more diverse opportunities
This is not an exhaustive list, just some examples to get you thinking.
North Country Trail sign

Sign for National Trails Day, which we spent in Pennsylvania

What kind of volunteer will you NOT be able to do on a one time or flexible basis?

  • Mentoring
  • Tutoring kids in a school
  • Being an advocate for abused children
  • Working at a safe house for abused women
  • Holding a leadership role of any kind, such as being on a planning committee, a non-profit board, or coaching a team
The list above may seem obvious, but I think it is helpful to be aware of all the different ways you can be involved as a volunteer and recognize that some of these positions require a certain level of commitment and necessitate background checks and proper screening before you can get involved.
sharon and jay at the red balloon picnic

Jay and Sharon at the Red Balloon Picnic volunteer project with Phoenix Philanthropists

Ok, that said, here’s how I find volunteer opportunities while we are on the road.

  1. I start by looking for a volunteer center in the area we are headed.  Most volunteer centers are part of the HandsOn Network and you can look on their map to find one.
  2. Most volunteer center websites list a “project calendar” such as the one HERE on Volunteer Arlington’s website.
  3. I use the calendar to get an idea of which organizations are hosting events or use “date-specific” volunteers.  You can also browse organizations listed on the volunteer center website for more ideas or for a specific cause.  I usually do not sign up through the Volunteer Center website because it requires me to create an online account and since I am only passing through I do not want to deal with the hassle.
  4. Next I contact the organization directly.  I prefer email so that I have a paper trail.  I usually google the organization, review their website, and then find the name and email of the volunteer manager.
  5. I introduce myself and explain our trip and ask if we can either sign up for an established opportunity or if there is a one time or flexible opportunity that we can help with.  It is important to be specific and clear from the beginning that you are traveling and will not be able to make a weekly commitment.  It might help to list your skills or relevant experience.
If I do not find a volunteer center in the area I usually just google something like, “volunteer Grand Junction November 2011”.  By using the town name and the date I am more likely to find one time opportunities that it is easy to plug into.
Another option for event volunteering is to look on the Visitor Center or Chamber of Commerce website for a listing of local events.  Many local events are actually fundraisers for nonprofits and you can get contact information to ask about helping out.
If you know someone in the area you are traveling to they can also often help connect you to a local organization.  When you are introduced by a local that knows the organization it is much easier to get signed up to volunteer.
Also, if you are traveling but are interested in volunteering in one place for a week, month, or even a year there are a lot more options.
Sharon at Trail building in Prescott

Sharon at a trail building day in Prescott, Arizona

Organizations that have week-long volunteer projects:

Sharon cutting and Jay assisting on a backcountry trip with Bob Marshall Wilderness Foundation

Organizations that have “volunteer vacations” you have to pay for:
If you have other suggestions for how to volunteer in the United States while traveling, please let me know by commenting on this post.

Help Us Win a Trip to Alaska to Volunteer

Many of our friends, family, and blog readers have shared their support for our trip and their concern for Jay’s well being since the accident.  You have asked how you can help.  Here’s how:

Please click on the photo below to go to the Travel for Good site and vote for us to win a travel grant to volunteer in Alaska.
jay and sharon in tent
The grant is for up to $5,000 and will help to balance out the costs of Jay’s treatment so that we can keep on schedule to volunteer for a year.

Here are the details of the contest:

  • You are allowed 1 vote per day per computer from now until May 31st
  • You can vote from your mobile device as well
  • You do not have to sign up or give any information to vote
  • The photo of us in the tent on the right sidebar gives you a direct link to the voting page.
  • Four winners will be chosen, so feel free to vote for another video as well if you would like
  • If we win, we will participate in one of these trips from the American Hiking Society

Please let us know if you have any questions.  If you have suggestions of where we can share our story and encourage others to vote,  please let us know.

Here is our contest video that is linked to in the photo above:

Planning for the Grand Canyon – Where It All Began

Toroweap overlook

Overlook at Toroweap (Picture I took in 2003)

Jay and I first started dating at the Grand Canyon.  We were both students in a University program called Grand Canyon Semester in 2003.  We had been taking classes at NAU in Flagstaff for two months but hadn’t had much interest in one another.  It wasn’t until we got out of the classroom and into the great outdoors that we took a liking to one another and discovered we make a great team.  October 2003, we spent living in the Grand Canyon, first on the South Rim, then rafting on the Colorado River, and finally backpacking on the North Rim.  By the time I got back to campus I had found a second home in the Canyon walls and had found my partner in life.

Faith and Jay at Toroweap

Our friend Faith (left) and Jay looking over the edge at the Toroweap overlook (picture I took in 2003)

The first organization on both of our lists to work with during Service Driven is Grand Canyon Trust (GCT).  Both because of our connection to the Canyon and our first hand knowledge of the great work that GCT does, we are thrilled to get a chance to participate in their volunteer trips.  Their trips are very similar to the American Hiking Society‘s Volunteer Vacations, (which we also hope to volunteer with), but they are free of charge to participants.  GCT is one of the only organizations I know of that runs free “voluntourism” trips in the United States.

Nicole at the Toroweap overlook (picture I took in 2003)

The first trip that we hope to take with GCT is the March trip, Vegetation Program Days at the Toroweap Campground in Grand Canyon National Park.  The Toroweap region is in a remote part of the Arizona strip, only accessible through Kanab, Utah by 4-wheel drive vehicle.  We were lucky enough to go there with Grand Canyon Semester as part of a geology field trip.  The experience that you get from exploring the remote edges of the Grand Canyon is worlds away from what most tourists experience standing behind the guardrail at the South Rim.  Camping at Toroweap challenged my understanding of natural beauty as I was both awestruck by the dramatic landscape while also craving a drop of green plant life in the endless panorama of rock.  We can not wait to get back out there and help protect this incredible habitat.

sunset at Toroweap campground

Sunset at Toroweap campground (photo taken by Chuck Barnes on the GCS trip in 2003)


My first foray into travel + volunteering

My boyfriend Jay and I are preparing to set forth on Service Driven, a road trip with a volunteering twist, in February 2011.  The idea is that we will travel throughout the United States and Canada, volunteering along the way.  With my experience as a volunteer manager and working for a volunteer center, I’m optimistic about my ability to make the volunteering part of that plan happen, but I have decided to get a head start by volunteering when we visit his family in Phoenix Arizona for Thanksgiving.

In order to find a place to volunteer, I went to the website for the volunteer center in Phoenix, HandsOn Greater Phoenix.  I was excited to see that they have a “managed project calendar” that is meant to encourage flexible volunteering.  Volunteers can search by date and see most of the details of a wide variety of volunteer projects.  They have everything from kayaking with Arizona Disabled Sports to 4 Paws Kitty Kare Day.

Since I will only be in town 4 days, I had a limited number of projects to choose from.  Several projects were already full, so I ended up signing up for a project called “Garden of Tomorrow: Community Building Through Gardening“.   This project sounds like a fun time outside and a chance to see “asset based community development” in action.  Not to mention, Jay’s family may have an interest in joining me and they still have room for more volunteers on the project.

The community garden is hosted by the Tigermountain Foundation, which has a lot of dead links and confusing information on its website, so I am interested to see what I can learn about the organization when I volunteer on Saturday.  Next week I will let you know what I find out and share how my volunteer experience went.

Challenges / Barriers for Travelling Volunteers:

  • HandsOn Greater Phoenix asks new volunteers to register, attend orientation, and pay a $25 fee before volunteering for projects on their project calendar.
  • The project asks you to bring your own gloves & a potluck dish for lunch afterwards – since we are staying with family we will have access to these supplies, but some volunteers may not.