For the last seven years, I’ve spent a few hours every week volunteering at the same place. Although the work is fast-paced and constantly changing, the indoor scenery comes to seem bland. I especially get cabin fever in the spring, and look for ways to supplement my indoor hours with some time giving back outside.
To combine my love of the outdoors with my commitment to volunteerism, I’ve had to get creative. Here are some of the best outdoor volunteer opportunities to get you out of the house.
Get Involved in Local Issues
Last year, my husband and I surprised ourselves with how much energy we threw behind a local mayoral candidate for our suburban town. We loaded up our children and canvassed the neighborhood with open-ended conversations and fliers. Our candidate lost the race, but we learned a lot, started important discussions about pressing issues, and made a ton of new friends.
School board representatives, town council members, and even the sheriff need your support in order to make their neighborhoods the best they can be.
Be a Trailblazer
According to Peter Olsen, vice president of programs at the American Hiking Society, volunteers who give back to America’s trails don’t just build wonderful places for people to enjoy; they also build good friendships and close-knit families. “Being outdoors together, sharing the sense of accomplishment from seeing a [once closed] trail that may now be enjoyed … and keeping trails environmentally sustainable always leaves us with happy hearts,” he says.
What is trailblazing? The term began with the need to mark trees or paint “blazes” for hikers to follow, indicating which trail they’re on at any one time. In recent years, the term has morphed to include other trail maintenance jobs like clearing litter, downed branches, and invasive plants. These are important (but fun) outdoor activities your kids can join in on.
If you’re ambitious, more strenuous tasks often need doing as well. “For those who really want to dig in, trail work may include building a section of new trail—whether extending an existing trail or rerouting it to a more sustainable location,” says Olsen. “This could involve removing vegetation and stones, then creating the trail bed. This is a fairly complex task and would be supervised by trained trail builders to ensure the trail is constructed to standards.”
Encourage Others Making a Difference
As a volunteer yourself, you know how much sacrifice goes into every good result. Giving your time is just that—giving. Each hour donated is one you’ve given freely without expecting anything in return. That’s why one of my favorite outdoor volunteer opportunities encourages others who are working for the greater good. Need specific ideas? Try these:
- Rally a crowd together to cheer racers in a Relay for Life or Race for The Cure event. Resolve to be the loudest, most enthusiastic supporter for every participant. Although our family eventually practices some verbal restraint, this is always a chance to let loose and holler until it hurts. My husband and I reward the family member who comes up with the best, most encouraging chant.
- Next time you get tapped to donate for a cause, go further than a few bucks; hand out your fliers at your next lemonade stand and ask whether folks might be able to help your choice organization. Who knows, this may even help you get to know your neighbors.
- While the beverages are out, distribute water at a local Habitat for Humanity project, or put together a picnic lunch for the hard-working volunteer laborers on site.
Improve the Lives of Local Animals
Visiting the zoo with your family is fun, but have you ever considered getting involved? You may not be in close contact with the animals themselves, but supporting those who are can offer a sense of closeness all its own.
Be prepared to roll up your sleeves—literally—and see the lives of the zoo’s residents improve in some small way. To get started, contact your local zoo to make an appointment with its volunteer coordinator. Bring a list of questions, and be ready to provide your share of answers as well.
How have you combined your own outdoor time with a volunteer activity? Leave a comment here with your creative ideas, or tweet it to @TomsofMaine with the hashtag, #GoodMatters.
Image source: Bethany Johnson
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.