Often, the advantages of volunteering are intangible: a sense of camaraderie, a chance for personal growth and the satisfaction of championing a cause. Still, it doesn't hurt when service comes with some added perks.
Giving to Receive
Habitat for Humanity (232-7001, richmondhabitat.org) affords qualifying low-income families a home through 350 hours of "sweat equity." For those willing to lend their time, it's also a great environment to pick up some construction and basic carpentry skills.
Vocational training and volunteerism intersect at the CJW Medical Center (101 Jahnke Road, 323-8882; 1401 Johnston-Willis Drive, 330-2082, cjwmedical.com). Betty Canning, director of volunteer programming for the Johnston-Willis campus, runs a shadowing internship for people ages 15 and up that "shows the aspect of the entire hospital from when a patient enters to when a patient leaves." Requiring a minimum of 50 service hours, the program exposes volunteers to numerous sorts of potential jobs.
Culture vultures can get an exclusive look at some of Richmond's finer things and enjoy an active social life, to boot. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (200 N. Boulevard, 340-1400, vmfa.museum), for instance, has the Friends of Art program, which hosts fundraisers for the museum and provides volunteers for Third Thursdays, Art After Hours, members' previews, open houses and other events. In fall 2008, the group completed its $50,000 pledged contribution for the museum's capital campaign for expansion, art acquisitions, operations and endowment. Friends of Art also attend cocktail parties, special lectures and tours of private art collections. Others may enjoy helping in the gift shop — and the accompanying discount. Some of the most sought-after positions are in the museum's docent program, which requires a formal application process and yearlong training session to be able to lead tours.
Those itching to share their creativity might volunteer at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden (1800 Lakeside Ave., 262-9887, ext. 335, lewisginter.org) and help design displays for the annual GardenFest of Lights. Opportunities also exist to work alongside horticulturists, gaining knowledge and caring for plants in more than 40 acres of gardens. Another one of Richmond's most picturesque places, Maymont (1700 Hampton St., 358-7166, maymont.org), relies heavily on volunteers. The 100-acre estate overlooking the James River, complete with a Romanesque-styled mansion, Japanese and Italian gardens, nature center, children's farm and wildlife exhibits including bison, elk, deer, foxes and bears, has been a public gift to the city since 1925. Volunteer opportunities, which run the gamut from cleaning up animal habitats to donning Victorian attire and guiding guests through Major and Mrs. Dooley's mansion, all come with free Maymont tram privileges, a gift shop discount, an invitation to a volunteer recognition ceremony and other events, and a subscription to the park's newsletter.
Sharing the Benefits
Sometimes the return comes in the ability to assist others with experiences the volunteer understands personally. At Hanover Safe Place (752-2728, hanoversafeplace.com), which offers advocacy, counseling and protection against domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, it is not uncommon for former victims to speak on behalf of the organization, or to partner with those in similar situations, says executive director, Sheree Hedrick. Similarly, health causes, such as the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation (285-1200, vbcf.org), attract a volunteer force largely of people who have had personal experiences with cancer, including survivors, family and friends. At the Shepherd's Center of Chesterfield (11300 Iron Bridge Road, 706-6689, shepctrchesterfield.org), retirees often teach fellow seniors skills they honed in careers or long-time hobbies. Among them: a Tai Chi instructor, who made it his mission to teach the Chinese martial art after discovering it improved his multiple sclerosis.