If your summers usually involve volunteering and vacationing, why not combine the two? Many families have gotten creative with how to turn both causes into one activity, adding social goodness to the sweet benefits of getting away for a while. To that end, here are four ways to invest your time off in summer volunteer programs you may not have considered before.
Also known as coaching, short-term mentorship programs are around in most towns—you just have to look for them. Join your local library’s summer reading program as a helper. If your children are older, they can be especially influential in encouraging a younger child to read, so consider signing them up to help, too.
You can also lend a grown-up hand at summer camps. Adults are always needed to make them a success every year, and the camp’s coordinators will be thrilled to get a call from another willing adult. While you’re there, treat each encounter like the life-changer it can be for the kids in your care. The best part? You don’t need to sign your summer away or commit to years of relational investment (although you may find yourself enjoying it in the long run, anyway).
These micro-mentoring volunteer opportunities also fall under “staycations,” as you’re offering your free time without truly leaving town.
Will Work for Cuddles
Time away often deserves to be more, well, away, and there are summer volunteer programs for that, too. Costa Rica’s northern coast harbors a private ecological reserve and animal rescue center that needs your help. If you love adventure, travel, and the planet, look no further for one of the most fulfilling summer volunteer programs in the Americas.
Your job? To help rehabilitate the animals rescued from the illegal exotic animal trade industry, and get them back into their natural environment. You may be getting kudos for cuddling koalas, but the cuteness is only half the story. The work is engaging and the needs are real. Exotic animals can encounter many setbacks in survival, and permanent disabilities sometimes take root in their physical and emotional history. If you’re already itching to look up flights, get to know the program.
Volunteering with the Whole Family
If you’re like me, you like mixing family and adventure. Overseas volunteer programs offer the ability to become friends with people who share your interest in helping others all over the world. Meanwhile, you don’t need to arrange childcare or wonder whether the kids would enjoy all the memory-making.
Volunteers for Peace offers trips for the whole family, and you can choose a trip (usually two to three weeks long) that focuses on caring for orphans, the environment, elderly, or other community service projects with which the local culture needs your help.
Building for Others
You might be in the position of having only one or two days to give. If that’s the case, consider giving your time to a local family who deserves a roof over their heads. Believe it or not, most people who are on the verge of homelessness don’t reflect it in their appearance. Saving someone from the elements may just mean a day or two of hard work.
To get the scoop, I caught up with David Sheets of Vienna, Virginia, who says one of the best ways he ever spent his vacation was working with Habitat for Humanity. “You know when you sign up that it’s going to be rewarding,” he says. “But nothing can prepare you for how it really feels to pick up a hammer or drill and join dozens of other people who have resisted the temptation to slack off that day. The camaraderie is just different. I have not felt that same group spirit anywhere else.”
Sheets noted that he’s been on many mission trips before, but seeing his own neighbors benefit from a few hours and some elbow grease was a surprisingly valuable experience.
One of the reasons Sheets loved his workdays was because of the training. “Without making me feel stupid, the habitat team taught me everything I needed to know,” he says. “They even provided the tools. All I brought was a willingness to help.”
The thought of giving back your vacation hours is a reward in and of itself, but you may not be sure which route to take. This list is only the beginning. Organizations like VolunteerMatch and United Way offer a locality search tools so you can browse options in your neighborhood and around the world. You may be surprised at the variety of jobs out there, just waiting for someone motivated to make a difference.
Image sources: 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.