“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” -Arthur Ashe
When I was stuck on a cargo ship for 27 hours off the coast of Nicaragua a couple years ago (the story goes downhill from here), I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish before I turned 30. I’ve never really had a general “bucket list,” just a handful of dream trips and a few vague goals for my life, but there’s something about being absolutely miserable and stuck on a boat that makes you reevaluate the direction your life is headed. So I made a list.
(PS: if you’re only interested in the list of volunteering opportunities and not my very touching and brief backstory, scroll down)
The funny thing is this: after putting so much thought into that list and really thinking about how I wanted to better my life before I turned 30, I ended up forgetting about it as soon as I returned home.
I found the list after I moved here to New York, almost two years later. And it wasn’t right when I moved, either — it was pretty recently, a couple months ago, which made rereading the list even more delightful and surprising because, you know what? One of the things I wrote down was that I wanted to volunteer somewhere for a year straight.
Some of you may remember when I announced I had started volunteering at Housing Works Bookstore in New York. Fast forward almost 6 months later, and I still love it as much as I do when I first started! It’s hard not to love being surrounded by good books, good coffees, good beers, good people, and good events/performances. I volunteer on Monday nights after work, and it always puts me in a good mood right at the start of the week (until the subway inevitably does something to aggravate me).
It’s a great feeling to see something on my bucket-ish list manifesting itself without even much effort on my part — and by that I mean it just sort of naturally came about rather than me aggressively forcing it to happen just because I wanted it to (which is generally how I approach most things that I want: brute force).
And now that it’s been a few months, I’ve been looking for more volunteering opportunities. I like the people I’ve met so far — all of us showing up to work one night (or at an event really early in the morning on a Sunday) because we said we would, not because anyone’s paying us. I like being able to go somewhere and wash some dishes, organize books, serve a few beers, just actually use my hands after sitting at a computer all day. I like being around other people who are doing the same thing.
My next task: volunteering at the New York Marathon! My mom and sister will be coming to New York to actually run the marathon, but since I am not that impressive of a human being, I will be on the sidelines with the water cups and maybe a witty sign.
If anyone is interested in volunteering in New York (or in other cities, in which case this list could just be a general brainstorm), here are a few of the opportunities I’ve found:
Housing Works Bookstore & Cafe (many positions are available: you can be a barista like me, or help with online sales or in the bookstore itself)
New York City Marathon
The Lower East Side Girls Club (wait this sounds really fun — you can mentor, tutor, lead workshops on a certain skill, lead museum visits, etc)
Planned Parenthood (they have monthly volunteering nights for things like assembling pamphlets and mailings, which is awesome if you don’t have much spare time but want to do something and are not Republican)
826 NYC (this is amazing. They have one in Chicago and San Francisco — a couple of my friends volunteered here in Chicago — and I don’t even want to describe it. Just go read about it.)
Met Museum Tour Guide (I would totally do this if it didn’t require a three year (!) commitment)
Madre (this is a group that organizes the sending of essential medical and living supplies to women in conflicted areas like Sudan, Iraq, and Haiti — and they they need some good word of mouth advocacy, so even just throwing a party/dinner to raise awareness of their cause would be helping them out)
MillionTreesNYC (for those of us who want to show the environment we are sorry for, well, killing it)
Time’s Up (for bike nerds)
Manhattan Young Democrats (election season, people)
New York Young Republican Club (in the spirit of being fair)
Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition (dog walking needed! Also, apparently you can go sit and “socialize” with the cats for a few hours…so, if you need me, too bad, I’ll be there for the rest of my life)
Not exactly volunteering but almost:
New York Cares Coat Drive (it looks like they are doing this again this year?)
Delivering meals on Christmas Day (several organizations do this)
Prom dress donation (my mom took a few friends and I to do this in LA when we were in high school and it was the best. There are several places in NYC that do this, according to my Googling: Donation Town, Operation Prom [you can even just donate if you don't have a dress!], Becca’s Closet)
PS: That photo is from the High Line