Volunteering at WOU: giving back to the community

Not sure what to do for spring break? It might be a good time to think about volunteering. There’s a lot you can get out of giving back. Meeting new people, trying out new experiences, and making a difference- it’s a win-win situation. Here’s what’s involved.

Yes, it’s sort of like a job

Hunting for a volunteer opportunity can be a lot like trying to find a job. Some organizations may even want a resume so make sure you’ve got one handy before you start scoping for a place to spend your time at. A lot of volunteer positions are even listed on popular job search sites, such as Monster or Indeed.

There’s a good reason for this, believe it or not. Organizations can use all the help they can get. But most want to make sure that they’re finding something for you to do that you’re interested in and, hopefully, have some experience with. Most of the time, though, organizations will give you training on what you’re supposed to do.

But for more specialized gigs, like delivering meals to the elderly or helping a non-English speaker apply for a job, you might need a special skill that not everyone does. So keep that in mind and don’t get too discouraged. You’ll find something soon!

Here are some local places you may want to look into.

WOU Food Pantry

Hunger’s an issue that unfortunately affects a lot of WOU students. Over 59 percent of WOU students are estimated to be food insecure- that means they lack reliable access to food on a daily basis. The Food Pantry on campus hopes to change that.

You may be asked to sort food, help distribute, or inventory everything in the pantry. It’s easy to find. The pantry is at the Academic Programs and Support Center (APSC), so this is a great volunteering opportunity for anyone who lives on or near campus. Get in touch with ASWOU to find out more.

Upward Bound

Also on campus, Upward Bound (also in APSC) helps high school kids receive the tutoring and support they need to get ready for college. Volunteers are always needed to help mentor kids in the program. Get in touch with Upward Bound to find out more about how you can get involved.

Start Making a Reader Today

Learning how to read is a valuable skill. And it’s something that many children struggle with. Start Making a Reader Today (SMART) provides one-on-one reading support to school children of all ages. And they always need volunteers to help read to children. If you’re bilingual, that’s a huge plus. SMART is always in need of volunteers who can speak Spanish.

If you get involved with SMART, you will be required to commit to volunteering at least one hour a week during the school day so make sure time permits. But if this works for you, this can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Find out more on their website.

Horses Adaptive Riding and Therapy

Horses Adaptive Riding and Therapy (HART) does a lot of good for people with special needs. Riding horses can be valuable physical therapy and helps encourage social skills. With HART, you might be asked to help handle horses (you don’t need prior experience with horses but you’ll be trained), including grooming them and leading them while a person is riding them. Plus, HART is based over in Independence so it’s close to campus and easy to find.

You’ll be dealing with the public, too, and helping someone in the community learn valuable therapeutic skills so this can be an excellent position for someone majoring in psychology or communications. Check out their website if you’re interested.

Northwest Outdoor Science School

Becoming a counselor with the Northwest Outdoor Science School allows you to teach elementary and middle-school students important scientific concepts out in the outdoors (hence the name!). It’s a multi-day experience, so there is a bit of a time commitment. However, if you ever plan on getting into teaching, this could be a great way to get some experience. Visit their website to find out more and learn about what you to get involved.

Alternative break trips

Travel outside of your comfort zone and consider embarking on an Alternative Break trip! They’re hosted annually by the Service Learning and Career Center and applications are due by April 10 for upcoming trips. Work with at-risk youth in Costa Rica, help save the rainforests on a conservation project in Peru, or even help teach English to students in Thailand. They’re a great way to both immerse yourself in another culture and do some good for people abroad. Apply here!

Where else can I volunteer?

This isn’t a complete list. There are dozens of other great organizations we just didn’t have the time or space to feature. For more ideas, you can visit the Service Learning and Career Center’s site and sign up for their listserv where you’ll get to learn about all kinds of awesome places to help out at. What’s really nifty about listserv is that you can list what kinds of opportunities you’re most interested in. You’ll then receive an email every so often about new volunteering opportunities and how to get started.

WolfLink also lists volunteer positions from time to time so stay active and keep your eye out.

Check out volunteer search engines like Idealist and Volunteer Search if you need more ideas. Volunteer Search even lists remote volunteering opportunities. So you can do things like mentor a budding business owner or help set up a virtual food drive all from the comfort of your home.

There are thousands of local organizations in Polk and Marion county alone that need your help. If you didn’t get a chance to volunteer this spring break, think about taking some time out on a weekend or this summer to get involved.

One last thing. Mark your calendars. To mark National Volunteer Week this April, the Service Learning and Career Center will be hosting a volunteer fair on Thursday, April 27 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., where local organizations in need of volunteers will host booths and share their story. Be sure to check it out!

Get out there and do some good! Even just an hour or two of your time can do lots of good for people in need.

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