In today's customizable society, it stands to reason that some people want only the do-gooder gig that matches their ability to give. "People have taken to volunteerism, and it's a part of our lives," says Vanessa Diamond, director of HandsOn Greater Richmond. "But we are also so busy that people are repacking what their civic engagement looks like." In Richmond, that means that shorter shifts and special events allow people to tailor their social responsibility, whether it's for a whole weekend or a couple of hours after work. Here are some ideas for getting started.
After Work or School
Located in Fulton Hill, the Neighborhood Resource Center (864-5797 or nrccafe.org ) provides an educational environment for children who otherwise might not have access to the resources to cultivate their talents. More than just an after-school tutoring program, the NRC works on the premise that talent is valuable and should be nurtured. According to Penny Ferris, the NRC's program director, they need volunteers to assist with all of their projects, which include tending an organic garden, offering piano lessons and even just playing games. "The great thing about volunteering here is you create your own agreement, so it's tailored to the volunteer's interests," says Ferris.
As part of an initiative to help adults struggling with literacy, the Read Center (288-9930 or readcenter.org ) needs volunteers to work as assistants in their adult education centers. Classes meet for two hours during the day or evening, and volunteers provide support during break-out classroom sessions so students can get one-on-one assistance. "Most people who come to us have a passion for reading, and we just want our volunteers to be flexible," says Harriet Scruggs, the Read Center's executive director. "A lot of people think that adults learn like children, but they are different."
If you tend to lean toward social responsibility, then there's nothing like paying it forward to younger people in need of a role model. Although Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Richmond & Tri-Cities (261-4940 or bigbrobigsis.com ) has some stringent volunteer requirements, it allows much flexibility for an otherwise busy volunteer. The community-based program sends the "Bigs" and their "Littles" on outings at least once a week, after school or on the weekends, for a few hours at a time. "It's really an opportunity to build a lasting relationship," says Chris Beach, the director of programs and interim executive director.
Well known for its work in building and restoring homes for families in need, Habitat for Humanity (232-7001 or richmondhabitat.org ) allows volunteers to commit a limited amount of time to a home-building project that will pay off for years to come. As an organization, Habitat for Humanity is ideal for students on break from school or professionals who want to donate time over an extended break or holiday. On-site volunteers can work Wednesday through Saturday any week of the year. Whitney Guthrie, volunteer talent manager for the program, points to the rewards that tend to keep their helpers engaged. "People definitely come back for multiple builds," she says. "Once people come one time, they want to come back and do it again."
For those looking to dip their toes in the water or simply volunteer seasonally, CARITAS (358-0964, shelter; 343-5008, Furniture Bank; or caritasshelter.org ), an organization that works to assist the homeless in getting back on their feet, offers itself as an excellent starting point. In winter, CARITAS relies on volunteers to coordinate temporary shelter for the homeless in area churches. And those who want to work in the nonprofit's Furniture Bank need only attend a brief information session where they fill out a profile to match them with a job. Volunteers can serve as personal shoppers for those who are transitioning from homelessness and need to select items from the Furniture Bank to furnish new apartments; they can help to refinish and repair furniture items; or they can organize new donations. Sharon Drescher, volunteer development manager, notes that "all of us have very busy schedules. We work hard to balance work and personal lives, but volunteerism is meaningful, and we understand not all people can volunteer every week."
Maybe you want to be in a nice setting and near the center of action while devoting some time to your community. Maymont (358-7166 or maymont.org ) can make that wish come true, especially if your schedule demands flexibility.
The park offers a variety of special events every year that bring out hundreds of volunteers, including one that, oddly enough, seems to draw a crowd — the park's leaf-raking session in the fall. "It's one of our most popular opportunities every year," says Shannon Petska, volunteer coordinator at Maymont, and it draws people of all ages and time commitments. Without the volunteers' help, she says, organizations like Maymont would not be able to maintain the variety and depth of programming it offers. "Most people stay a few hours. Maybe they are here to set up something, they help with the activities and they are done," Petska says.