11 Creative Ways to Volunteer

National Volunteer Week starts April 6, but plenty of organizations could use your help year-round. If you’re looking to donate your time or talents, see how you can set to work any skills you have—as diverse as singing, knitting, gaming, or even arm-wrestling—to make other lives better.

New ways to volunteer
Photographs via Flickr, left to right: Al Muya (CC BY 2.0), Joao Brando (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0), Steve Johnson (CC BY 2.0)

Musicians on Call (musiciansoncall.org): Tapping into the healing power of song, this nonprofit invites performers (both amateurs and pros) to sign up for the chance to cheer up patients at local hospitals in New York, Philadelphia, Nashville, Miami, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and Baltimore. Can’t carry a tune? Additional volunteers can still escort musicians and help with other program needs.

Any Soldier (anysoldier.com): Looking to support our troops with a card or a care package—but don’t know what to include or where to send it? Any Soldier connects you to military units whose soldiers don’t get much (if any) regular mail from back home. Volunteers can also help determine what’s needed, whether it’s cleaning supplies, snacks, comic books, or formerly loved stuffed animals that the soldiers can share with local children.

Brightening Birthdays (voa.org): Here’s an opportunity to make a homeless child’s dream come true: You can help give him or her a birthday party by either volunteering at events (ten states currently participate in the program) or simply donating supplies.

Knitted Knockers (knittedknockers.info): Hoping to aid women who have had mastectomies without reconstructive surgery, volunteers at Knitted Knockers create colorful yarn prostheses and send them along with a personal note. If you’re crafty, check out the instructions on the organization’s website to contribute.

Collective of Lady Wrestlers (clawusa.org): Wrestling here means arm wrestling, and the women who voluntarily participate in leagues around the country have raised over $175,000 to help various nonprofit organizations such as the Center for Anti-Violence Education.

Code for America (codeforamerica.org): Dubbed the Peace Corps for Geeks, this group seeks techies who want to volunteer to help local communities. For example, thanks to a recent app the group developed for the city of Boston, residents were able to “adopt” a fire hydrant to keep it clear and accessible during snowstorms. Of course, you’re welcome even if you don’t have programming skills: You can be a designer, community organizer, or product manager.

Wish Upon a Hero (wishuponaherofoundation.org): It’s your chance to be an everyday hero: Volunteers sign up to be “wish ambassadors” and help fulfill requests posted to heronetwork.com (“toys and blankets for orphaned animals,” for example) by sending e-mails, making phone calls, or writing letters to organizations that may have the ability to donate.

KaBOOM! (kaboom.org): In some communities, fresh air and exercise are a luxury that kids can’t access. Enter KaBOOM!, an organization whose volunteers build and improve playgrounds around the United States. Representatives say over six million children have been served by these efforts, which focus on struggling neighborhoods and urban areas that lack green space.

Purple Heart Homes (purplehearthomeusa.org): Many veterans return from service needing help building or maintaining their homes, and this organization offers improvement to their quality of life. Though the core idea is for veterans to help other veterans, civilians are welcome as volunteers for painting, landscaping, decorating, fund-raising, and other projects.

Awesome Games Done Quick (gamesdonequick.com): All that time playing video games finally pays off during these special “marathons,” in which skilled players rip through challenges like “Metroid Prime” in record time, all the while raising donations for causes including the Prevent Cancer Foundation and Doctors Without Borders.

VocalID (vocalid.org): You can give a voice to someone who doesn’t have one. Literally. Volunteers record two to three hours of speech, which will then be used to create a synthetic voice for individuals who don’t have the ability to speak on their own.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest