So you want to give your time but don’t know where to start? Not to worry! There are lots and lots of volunteer options out there–it’s just a matter of finding the right fit for you. We’ve compiled some helpful resources in finding the right fit both locally in your community and worldwide.
Find a Local Organization
You never know what organizations in your own community may need a helping hand! The websites below all have vast databases of nonprofits seeking additional assistance.
VolunteerMatch.org: This vast online database allows searchers to narrow not only by city, but by type of volunteer opportunity, passion, or interests. Highly recommended!
GivingTuesday.org: Includes a database of volunteer opportunities by city
HowToHelpInMaine.org: Just for Maine residents, this database was created by GLA alum Zoe Siegel!
Finding a minor-friendly volunteer position can be difficult; luckily, there are many organizations out there that recognize the value of young volunteers and the fresh perspective they bring to projects. While checking directly with organizations that serve your community is often the best way to go, the following nonprofits offer teen-specific projects:
Humane Society: Animal lover? The Humane Society generally has volunteer opportunities for minors. You can use the link to find branches in your area, or Google “humane society (your town)” for specifics.
American Red Cross: Aspiring healthcare worker? The Red Cross has a teen-specific program with all kinds of options, from blood drive organization to emergency preparedness education to fundraising.
Habitat for Humanity: Aspiring contractor? Like to work with your hands? Habitat for Humanity also has a Youth United program especially for teen volunteers.
Give your time with the added bonus of learning not only a new skill, but about a whole new culture! Volunteering abroad, when done responsibly, can be one of the most rewarding experiences out there. You can search by interest here, or see below for a breakdown by number of hours of community service. Programs include a range from 5 to 83 volunteer hours, over a span of 8 – 28 days. If you’re all about the service hours, see below for GLA’s most service-heavy programs:
40+ Service Hours
Ghana: Children Of Africa™ (60 hours over 21 days)
Brazil: Rio Service Adventure (60 hours over 21 days)
Peru: Children Of The Andes™ (50 hours over 21 days)
Costa Rica: Spanish Service Adventure (48 hours over 21 days; adding Homestay Extension, up to 83 hours over 28 days)
Costa Rica: Animal Rescue Project™ (45 hours over 21 days)
Fiji: Children Of The South Pacific™ (45 hours over 21 days)
India: The Initiative For Children™ (45 hours over 21 days)
Peru: Llama & Animal Service Adventure™ (45 hours over 21 days)
Dominican Republic: Global Health Initiative™ (40 hours over 14 days)
Aaaah, Thanksgiving weekend, a time to feast, give thanks, and…wait in line in the freezing early-morning hours among aggressive and equally grouchy patrons for doorbuster deals?! Ugh. Not feeling the frenzied consumerism this year? We’re with you. Here are some other options for making the most of your post-Thanksgiving day–and none of them require spending a dime!
#1: Get Outside!
The benefits of swapping shopping malls for the great outdoors are many, and include better sleep, lower stress, and in most cases, a happier bank account. If you’re physically active in the outdoors, the boons just keep getting better. (You may have seen the #optoutside hashtag on Instagram and Twitter; this movement was started by outdoor retailer REI in 2015 with the intent of getting people out of the retail mindset and into nature on what was traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year.)
In fact, many National and State Parks in the US offer “Black Friday” deals of their own to promote a love for the great outdoors: Free parking, free passes or discounted admission, free tours/classes or other celebrations are all on offer. (Check to see what’s going on at your nearest park here.)
Wilderness access out of the question? Take a walk through your city, check out a local park or botanical garden, or explore a part of your neighborhood that you’ve never seen before.
“Each Thanksgiving weekend my husband and I take advantage of the long weekend and smaller crowds and camp at a National Park. We’ve done snowy Grand Canyon hikes, braved a rainstorm at Zion, and last year, camped at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan where we now live. No crowds, no frenzy, just spending time in nature and making memories!” –Jenica Pistone-Donahue, GLA Marketing
“We like to go on a family hike out in the Laguna Mountains to unplug and appreciate being in nature. Afterwards, we go to a local farm and plant nursery–our kids love to visit the animals and pick out some new native plants and vegetables for us to plant in our garden. Everyone feels tired, happy and appreciative after a day like this.” –Hannah Shepherd, GLA Admissions Manager
#2: Create New Traditions
It’s never too late to start a new tradition. Baking cookies, creating holiday crafts, or enjoying an annual family outing gives us something to look forward to year after year. Not your fam’s style? Break the mold–do something out of the ordinary! First Annual Remake Your Favorite Music Video Day? Why not! Jones Family Speak Only in Rhyme Day? Totally could be a thing. The weirder & more the unique to your crew, the more memorable. (Check out other ideas from our alumni below.)
“My aunt created Nieces Weekend. Thanksgiving night the five older nieces go to her house and we sent her boys to other families homes. Then we sleep over and spend the next day baking cookies, making the cutest Christmas crafts and dancing to Christmas music. We have so much fun being together and being creative. This year will be the 7th year!!” –Kate Gunville, Alumni (Hartland, WI)
“This year, my family and I will be visiting a local museum that we visit frequently and watch a holiday movie in the giant screen theater while we are there. I love going to this museum because it helps me feel connected to my family & my background, and they always have obscure exhibits that other places never have, like collections of local artists or rooms full of Lego statues.” –Cecilia Ransburg, Alumni (Deerfield, IL)
“The end of Thanksgiving does not always signify the beginning of the holiday season; the festivities must continue—with Friendsgiving, of course! During Friendsgiving, my friends and I bring in foods from our various cultures. As we indulge in meals full of latkes, schnitzel, and dumplings, we are able to appreciate our friendships and laugh at the memories we share with one another.” –Anya Vandeven, Alumni (Morristown, NJ)
#3: Reflect & Practice Self-Care
The holidays can be a stressful time. Instead of throwing yourself into the frenzy of Black Friday shopping, why not do the exact opposite? For some, this might mean a long hot bath, face mask, and calming tunes; for others, holing up with a book and the leftover pie. Whatever it takes for you to de-stress & approach the coming weeks…do that!
“I usually spend a relaxing couple hours at a peaceful 150 acre dog park along the bay with my pup. I walk the entire edge of it as she frolics in and out of the water. It is quite healing to soak up the serenity of the outdoors and the joy that dogs find in life. Fast forward, we now have a new dog that isn’t ready for dog parks yet and an infant. I better keep working on training this new pup so we can resume this wonderful tradition as a family. Hopefully my daughter will learn to appreciate the beauty of it all too.” –Anna Graham, GLA Accounting
#4: Give Back
Not one to sit around on a free day? Consider donating your time to a cause you’re passionate about! Many organizations have additional volunteer opportunities around the holidays as need tends to be greater in the colder months: Soup kitchens, homeless services, and see a massive increase in . Animal shelters tend to hold more adoption events in November & December as these are months when many parents finally cave and adopt a family pet.
You can browse Volunteer Match for ideas on where, how, and with whom to give your time locally. Or, if you happen to live in Maine, GLA Alum Zoe Siegel created How to Help in Maine.Org specifically for young people in her state.
“For Black Friday this year, I am planning on attending the Youth Climate Strike in Chicago. I went to the one in September and it was such a great experience which put many different things into perspective. From my GLA trip this year, we learned about our ecological footprint and how we can be more sustainable, so I am really trying to live a more conscious lifestyle and get more involved with positive environmental change.” –Audrey Connelly, Alumni (Riverside, IL)
“The day after Thanksgiving, my family and I rarely opt to take part in Black Friday Sales. Instead, we usually take the time to enjoy one another’s company and spend quality time with friends and family. Some years, we even serve at a local soup kitchen with my church to give back to the community!” –Morgan McDonald, Alumni (Stamford, CT)
#5: Connect With “Chosen Family”
Taking the time to reconnect with friends during this busy family-oriented season can be crucial–not everyone has a large family or familial relationships conducive to sharing a day together. Many families’ day-after-Thanksgiving brings one or both parents or other family members back to work. This doesn’t mean you have to go it alone! Reach out to those you love for some quality time, whether they’re your blood or the family that you choose for yourself.
“I normally use this day as an excuse to catch up with friends who have opposite schedules to me. They’re usually off during the day so it’s a good chance to see them and hit the beach since we’re in sunny San Diego!” –Ros Galati, GLA Travel Coordinator
“Since I am on the cross country and track teams at my school, I love to run! After every Thanksgiving, my running friends and I all sleep in after a big meal and meet up for a run the next day. It’s a great way to catch up on how everyone’s holiday went and burn off the calories we indulged in the night before!“–Abby Peterson, Alumni (Algonquin, IL)
#6: Examine Your Relationship With “Stuff”
OK, so maybe the Marie Kondo “spark joy” decluttering method doesn’t work for everyone. Start small! What do you really need? What can you do without? What items are hindering your life vs benefitting it? Challenge yourself to donate at least three items of clothing or at least five nonperishables from your pantry. (Those cans of green beans collecting dust in the back of the cupboard can certainly be put to better use!)
If you’re seeing a lot of high-end, big-ticket items in your donation box, you can even go for a #6/#4 combo and plan a yard sale or sell these items online with the goal of donating the proceeds to an organization of your choice. Many nonprofit organizations prefer cash donations as funds are more flexible than tangible goods and can be used to address the most pressing need of the moment. (Psst: GLA International Foundation is a great way to support projects abroad!)
“I plan to clean out my closet and list a bunch of old clothing on Poshmark. I love shopping for and selling second-hand clothing because it reduces waste and carbon footprint! Instead of going to the mall and going crazy buying things, I like to make money selling things that I don’t use anymore.” –Jamie Paradis, Alumni (Maplewood, NJ)
If you’re a GLA Alum who traveled to Central America in 2018, odds are that you spoke with Travel Coordinators Sydney Baumeister and/or Nadine Hamilton about what to pack, how to book a flight or where to turn in your pre-departure documents before you arrived at your program. At a company as tight-knit as GLA, we love the friendships that often form among coworkers, and these two will go down in history as an efficient professional team, adventurous traveling duo, and currently, in their post-GLA days, co-volunteers in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic.
A Chance Meeting in the EduTerra Global Internship
Sydney and Nadine met in 2016 when they were each selected as a part of the new cohort of EduTerra Global Interns (EGI), a group of a dozen recent college grads who learn the ins and outs of running educational programs abroad while living and working in Costa Rica. The old adage “opposites attract” certainly seemed to hold true: where Sydney is outgoing and confident, Nadine is more reserved and introspective. As it turns out, the two have a lot in common. They both describe themselves as adventurous and independent. They quickly bonded and began exploring the far corners Costa Rica and Central America on their days off.
“In our friendship, Nadine is the one that’s always prepared and has done her research. If we do a trip together, Nadine has a homemade snack for the bus or plane AND remembers to brings that one extra thing that everyone else forgets but you need. I’m the friend that forgets something crucial and hasn’t planned a thing (I recognize this is annoying) but is down to do whatever. And I’m lucky to have a friend like Nadine that will share with me. We both are equally and incredibly silly,” Sydney says.
After the first year, the interns enjoyed their time in Costa Rica and their newfound companions so much, they decided to stay on for a second year. They both joined team as full-time Travel Coordinators, helping to prepare travelers and their families for the adventure ahead.
When their second year in Costa Rica drew to a close, Nadine and Sydney parted ways–but not before exploring Cuba together as one last “hurrah.” A passionate Spanish language advocate, Sydney returned to her home state of Minnesota and got a job teaching Spanish in elementary schools. Nadine spent four months in Vietnam, where she earned her TESOL certification and explored Vietnam, Cambodia, and China via motorbike before volunteering as a WWOOF farmer in Northern California redwood country where she learned to milk goats and make cheese.
Nadine, who had been interested in the Peace Corps since her college years, decided that the time was right to apply.
“I knew it was something I wanted to do, but I also wanted to give myself a couple years after university to gain life experience and equip myself with more of the skills needed to be a successful volunteer. Among the reasons that inspired me to apply were mastering Spanish, wanting to plant seeds of growth in the minds of youth, playing a role in youth feeling more capable, confident, and comfortable in their own skin, providing comprehensive and inclusive sexual health education, learning to run impactful youth programs from the planning stages to execution, gaining an understanding of how 90% of the world lives, and leaving a positive and sustainable impact on a community.”
So how did the two come to end up in the same country yet again?
“It’s my fault!” Sydney laughs. “I copied Nadine. We both had chatted about wanting to volunteer [with the Peace Corps] but Nadine applied first to Peace Corps Dominican Republic. After looking at all the positions open I realized that education would be the best fit for me based on my skills and work experience. I knew I wanted a Spanish speaking country but landed on the DR after checking out what was available. Naturally, I submitted my application on the last day of deadline at 11:53pm.”
Reunited! (and it feels so bueno!)
Both agree that their time with GLA helped to steer them on their current path: They liked what they observed through GLA as far as development and incorporating student volunteers into the mix. They loved living abroad in a developing country. They wanted more.
“GLA was the first time I was exposed to sustainable development. I liked that GLA projects were determined based on community feedback and needs and put organizations that were already doing amazing work in the drivers seat. But then also found away for students to be a part of it and serve the community within their skill set and learn. From working for GLA for 2 years in Costa Rica, I knew that I could handle the challenges that come with living abroad, but also that I loved it!”
“My two-year post-college gig with GLA was one of the most eye-opening and life-changing experience I’ve gone through until now. I grew exponentially both personally and professionally and will be forever grateful for my time in Costa Rica. I became fully addicted to living, traveling, and working abroad, and was inspired by meeting so many of GLA’s partner organizations.”
Soon, both women were en route to the Dominican Republic. While they’re still in the intensive, ten-week training phase, to say that Nadine and Sydney are enjoying their assignments is an understatement.
Says Sydney: “LOVE IT. Dominicans are so friendly, warm, and outgoing. During my conversations, people have been so open about their lives and genuine. They recognize that passing and sharing time with others is a priority and are present when they are with you.”
“One of my favorite aspects about the experience so far is how much Peace Corps invests in its trainees and volunteers. Unlike some other organizations who just send “aid” money or material goods to developing countries, Peace Corps sends trained, motivated people as its resources. We live among the people we are serving and at the same standard of living. We integrate into these communities by building relationships, earning their trust and respect, and committing to a full two years there,” Nadine says.
So what’s next? Soon, the two will complete training and join the community in which they will be living for the next two years as official volunteers.
Sydney’s Typical Peace Corps Day
Always wondered what it’s actually like to be a Peace Corps volunteer in training? Get a peek into into a day in the life!
6:30 AM – Wake up, shower
7:00 AM – Breakfast! My host mom Flabia goes all out and I usually have coffee, a fruit batida (smoothie), and then eggs, mangu, or empanadas. Sometimes she gives me grilled cheese for breakfast and I love it.
7:30 AM – Walk to our training center with my fellow PC trainee Hanna. We saludar various friends from the community on our way. My most recent friend and my favorite is this old man named Jose who loves to talk politics.
8:00 AM – Begin charlas (instruction/talk) on various topics: classroom management, how to teach literacy, public speaking, how to plan a lesson, etc.
Noon-2:00 PM – Home for lunch for two whole hours! Flabia spoils me again and serves me the “bandera” which is always rice, a meat, and salad.
2:00 PM – Spanish class! My class does a lot of projects/out-of-classroom work. This past week we gave charlas to 5th and 6th graders on values and violence.
5:00 PM – I usually hang with other trainees for a bit.
6:00 PM – Home for dinner and chill with my host family.
9:00 PM – Bedtime! I’m usually in bed and in my room early because I need my alone time.
Max Preuninger is three-time GLA alum (Thailand: In & Beyond the Classroom™, Ghana: Children of Africa™, and Tanzania: Children’s Education Adventure) and Ambassador of the Year 2018. He is an advocate for LGBTQ rights and active in his community in Bryant, Arkansas. Read his bio and interview here!
Pride month is hands down one of the best and worst months of the year. It can be difficult to find reasons to celebrate when only certain parts of the LGBT community are really accepted by society, and it can be difficult to feel allowed to celebrate when we have so many brothers, sisters, and everyone in-between who are criminalized across the globe. It can be a month that reminds me of the unique challenges that I’ve had to face that maybe my straight, cisgender peers haven’t.
Despite that, pride month is like a safe-haven. While this contrasts heavily with the extravagant events of pride month, June reminds me of rainy days where I can sit by a window with a fuzzy blanket, enjoying a good book. It’s a comforting feeling where I’m able to pause and realize that things really aren’t so bad. Pride month is a time to remember every person and event that has contributed to another movement for equal rights and to be proud of your own place in that history, because believe it or not, every person in this community is making history in their own way.
Pride month isn’t supposed to be about fear of persecution or failure or discrimination. Pride month means overcoming enough of that fear to see that there are thousands of people that you don’t even know standing behind you, ready to lift you off your knees and dust you off time and time again. It’s all about being able to realize what you’re a part of. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to comprehend the amount of love and support that radiates so heavily from the smiles of people when I say “Happy Pride!” after seeing a rainbow pin.
Pride month is different for everyone. For some, it’s another year of building the confidence to come out, for others it’s celebrating another year of being able to be unapologetically themselves. The energy that comes with pride month’s celebrations of love, acceptance, and equality really allows allies and members of the community to desire equality for those who are yet to be granted it across the world. It’s a perfect balance really, refueling the community halfway through the year to remind us all of the support we have from each other while simultaneously reminding us that this fight isn’t over.
For me, it’s a reminder that we’re still making progress. We’re here. We aren’t invisible–I’m not invisible. It reminds me that we can’t forget to fight for others simply because we’ve gained more equal rights. It just gives me hope for my future and the future of the world really, being able to celebrate and want the same things with people I’ve never even seen before.