Today is the Martin Luther King Jr Day of Service so we’re revisiting out Volunteering Guide. If you’re not finding the organization that’s right for you, consult our Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall Guides. -ed.
BYT is bringing you our first ever volunteering guide — to appease your inner do-gooder, your Catholic guilt, or whatever. So get out there and make your momma proud, or just plant some tomatoes in exchange for free beer. Before we dive into some of the great volunteer opps D.C. has to offer, let’s look at things to keep in mind when getting ready to involve yourself in the local D.C. community.
Why should I volunteer?
Do I even need to answer this? Okay, fine. Because you can feel good while helping others. Because it gets you off your bum and into the beautifully diverse community you call home. Because you’ll meet lots of fun and different folks. And really, because “House of Cards is back” is not a good enough reason to stay in bed and be a hermit.
I work long hours and have busy weekends…what’s the typical time commitment?
It’s completely variable depending on who you volunteer with and what you sign up to do. Opportunities can range from one day a year to many hours a week… look for the estimated time commitment by each opportunity below!
I like playing in the dirt… are there opportunities for me?
Yes! So many opportunities to ditch the button downs and roll up your sleeves.
I don’t like sunlight… are there opportunities for me?
Definitely! There are a ton of indoor opportunities, from soup kitchens to tutoring to helping pretty much any community organization with vital administrative tasks. Did you know that according to to a 2013 census of volunteers, 30% of D.C.’s residents volunteer and 26% of our millennials do. Not bad when compared nationally, but if you think about it, that’s less than one third of us. Given how easy it is to find volunteer opportunities these days and how flexible the hours are, there are few reasons not to get involved.
Okay, I’m fully convinced that helping others beats sitting on my couch. Where are some places I can volunteer?
DC Central Kitchen: DCCK isn’t your typical soup kitchen — they not only provide meals to those in need, but also teach culinary job training to individuals who are unemployed, and have a number of programs (like their “truck farm”) aimed at providing healthy food and nutrition education to low-income students across the city. You could get involved with DCCK as a chef interested in training, a restaurant looking to hire a DCCK graduate, or as a volunteer helping to prepare food into meals to be donated, to name a few. (time commitment: varies)
826DC: Like kids and want to tap into your creative side? 826DC provides resources to help kids ages 6-18 become better writers and grow more comfortable with the spoken and written word. You can volunteer through tutoring, leading writing workshops, organizing field trips, or just helping 826DC out in other necessary ways (social media, marketing, etc). Don’t have time to volunteer but still want to support 826DC? Drop by the Museum of Unnatural History to shop for curious artifacts and gifts — 100% of your purchase will go toward supporting 826DC.
Girls on the Run: Lady friends, this one’s for you. If you like spreading the gospel of women’s empowerment and believe that warm fuzzies and good coaching pave the road to success, consider coaching with Girls on the Run. There are a zillion chapters in the D.C. area to choose from, and each chapter partners with a local school and practices twice a week throughout the spring and fall. If you can’t make a weekly commitment, consider volunteering for the season finale 5K race — loads of glitter, headbands, and squealing girls make it memorable for everyone involved (oh, and femme-friendly dudes, the 5K and assistant coaching positions are open to volunteers of any gender). (time commitment: varies from very light (5K race volunteer) to very involved (coach))
NPR: Can’t get a job at everybody’s favorite radio station but want to be part of the action nonetheless? You can apply to become an “NPR Ambassador”, leading tours of the NPR building, working in the NPR shop, or volunteering at special events (Hi Ira!) are all possible volunteer activities. (time commitment is “reasonable” according to NPR)
TEALS: TEALS stands for Technology Education And Literacy in Schools, and despite the terrible acronym, they’re doing some really cool stuff. If you’re a coder (of any level) and interested in helping D.C. high schoolers learn to code, this is the volunteer opportunity for you. (time commitment: moderate)
National Park Service: Volunteer park ranger, here I come! You can volunteer with the NPS in many different ways — from helping out at big events (read: 4th of July Mall craziness) or in another capacity at one of the nearby national parks. (dress up in period garb and hang with Dolly the Mule as a canal boat guide or hike the Billy Goat Trail as a Trail Steward) There are lots of ways to be an NPS volunteer and you can see all opportunities here. (time commitment: moderate)
We the People: Ah, finally a political opportunity! If you’re super into politics and want to be responsible for molding the next Hillary (or Newt… hey, it happens), consider volunteering with We the People, an organization that teaches students “civic competence and responsibility”. (time commitment: varies based on the school you work with and your personal preferences)
Capital Area Food Bank: CAFB has all sorts of volunteer opportunities; from helping out at their warehouse to hoeing in their garden, there are many ways to get dirty and lend a helping hand. Not interested in volunteering but still want to help out? Then check out their Blue Jean Charity Ball… super cas for a cause, because why rent the runway when you can just wear jeans? (time commitment: varies from one-time, monthly, weekly, or more)
Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture: If nutrition and environmentalism are your jam, Arcadia has a ton of ways you can get involved. Break into spring by joining Arcadia on Saturday, March 28 for their first monthly volunteer day of the year at their farm in Alexandria. You’ll get to plant and shovel and weed… oh, and meet a few like-minded folks while you’re at it. If you have a flexible schedule, you can volunteer with their mobile market, Arcadia’s “farmstand-on-wheels” that brings local meat and produce to under-served communities in D.C., or volunteer at farm field trips, teaching students from these communities what it means to eat healthy and local. If you become a regular you’ll be added to the “Farm Team” distro list, where you’ll have the opportunity to join volunteers on Sunday evenings for Farm Tonic — a couple hours of farm chores followed by a potluck supper and that week’s drink — from the namesake G&Ts to local brews, there’s always a well-earned drink to end the evening. (time commitment: varies from one-time, monthly, weekly, or more)
BEST Kids, Inc: Building Experiences, Skills, and Teamwork = BEST! BEST is a local organization that focuses on children in the foster care system, pairing mentors with mentees who’ve had a challenging home life. BEST believes that we can change the future of youths in D.C.’s child welfare system, all it takes is a good relationship with someone you can look up to. This can be a emotionally challenging commitment, but worth it… just be sure you plan on sticking around in D.C. for a good number of years, what these kiddos need is some stability and continuity, not just any flighty pal. (Commitment: on the heavier side… 10+ hours/month)
Anacostia Riverkeeper: Like (the) Anacostia? Or you’ve just always wanted to be called “the riverkeeper”? Well, you can don a sick pair of waders and get to work cleaning the river, or help the organization out with administrative tasks inside. Since the folks in this org are literally, the river’s keepers, they’re also open to any and all reports of river pollution and other hazards — sign up to be a river watchdog and you can help them keep an eye on an important D.C. land(water?)mark. (Commitment: light)
Atlas Performing Arts Center: You may have gone to a show at Atlas, or have heard about it from some hipper pals, but you can also volunteer to help out with things like office work, or ushering at a show. Every time you volunteer, you get two complimentary vouchers… yay, freebie! (Commitment: light)
CentroNia: CentroNia creates a space for children and students to learn in a bilingual environment. They peg themselves as a “multicultural learning community with a pioneering approach to bilingual education”, which means there are lots of volunteer opportunities to pick from — you can help build entrepreneurs or young musicians, or provide free tutoring, all in a bilingual environment. (Commitment: varies, but on the heavier side)
Washington City Church of the Brethren Nutrition Program: Your good old-fashioned soup kitchen, run by a church in Capitol Hill. This place is as local as you can get. If you’re a Christian looking for a congregation, this could be a good place to start volunteering. If not, you’re still sure to run into plenty warm souls. (Commitment: light)
If you’re looking for opportunities beyond what we’ve touched on, but don’t have time to do the digging yourself, check out sites like volunteermatch.org for a more concise list of opportunities in D.C. Don’t see your favorite charity or volunteer opportunity? None of these strike your fancy or you’re looking for opportunities in a community or subject area we missed? Let us know and we’ll be sure to include it in one of the next editions. Up next — D.C. Spring Volunteering Guide — Earth Day and other opportunities galore!