August 21, 2015

Lend a helping hand: 5 great ways to volunteer

Local opportunities to give back to the community

Volunteering Community Service

A dog walker is led by his panting charges on New York's Upper West Side.

No matter how much of a challenge it is to escape the monsoon of daily obligations we all have, the truth is we live in communities that need our help, whether it's providing encouragement to those who are less fortunate or helping maintain the quality and health of our environment.

Volunteering is an excellent way to become invested in your community, meet like-minded people and cultivate a spirit of civic engagement that the younger generation will emulate and uphold.

Here are five great ways to give back locally and make meaningful contributions to your community.

Join a Parks & Recreation Friends Group

Help a park. (Contributed Art/

As public amenities, Philadelphia's parks are a favorite gathering place for friends and family, but it's hard to enjoy them when they're in disrepair or strewn with litter and excess foliage. Philadelphia Parks and Recreation created Friends Groups as a way to foster community-led cleanup days, fundraisers and advocacy for improvements and programming. Find out how you can get involved with a Friends Group by consulting this list of participating parks throughout Philadelphia.

Help Cathedral Kitchen alleviate hunger in Camden

Cook a meal. (Contributed Art /Cathedral Kitchen)

Poverty and homelessness leave many families particularly vulnerable to extreme hunger, but Camden's Cathedral Kitchen, established by volunteers in 1976, has steadily grown in recent years as its annual volunteer base of around 7,000 people continues to expand.

As a volunteer, you can help facilitate meal service by plating and serving food, seating guests and assisting with the cleanup effort. About 20-25 guests serve an average of 350 people on a weekly basis. Some of those who are served end up participating in culinary arts education programs that help set them on right course to a fulfilling career.

Provide companionship to animals in need at Street Tails Animal Rescue

Walk a homeless dog. (Street Tails Animal Rescue/YouTube) 

For all of the unconditional love and laughs our pets give us, there are just many animals out there who don't have an owner. Volunteering at Street Tails Animal Rescue in Northern Liberties is a perfect way to help an organization committed to providing homeless animals with proper medical care and adoption services, which a focus on animals with special needs.

Volunteers will help with everyday activities, chores, events, and other duties at the shelter. Fill out an application to volunteer here

Become a listening ear for a prisoner

Help a prisoner. (Contributed Art/Prisoner Visitation and Support)

Belief in second chances is an integral part of human generosity. Several organizations provide volunteering opportunities that can be instrumental in the rehabilitation of incarcerated individuals. Volunteers at The Pennsylvania Prison Society, founded in 1787, can promote just and human restorative corrections while assisting with office tasks, replying to prisoners' letters and participating in prison community events.

Prisoner Visitation and Support's volunteer program facilitates connections for those who lack regular, face-to-face contact from the world outside of prison. Through the PVS program, which has a Philadelphia office, prisoners on death row, in solitary confinement and those who are not frequently visited by family and friends get the human contact necessary to cope with life behind bars. 

Volunteer at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

Make a kid happy. (Contributed Art/Children's Hospital of Philadelphia)

CHOP's reputation as a national leader in treatment and youth health services makes it an ideal place to get involved and improve the lives of those persevering through medical challenges. At CHOP, there are opportunities for volunteers of all ages. Adults can participate in the Child Life support program, building bedside relationships through activities with young patients, collaborate with certified teachers at the hospital, or assist in the upkeep of the occupational therapy center, among other programs.

College students can help out at the Galaxy 51-Seacrest Studios, participate in nursing inpatient and outpatient services support or get involved with the Reach Out and Read Program. The High School Explorer Program and the Gerald B. Shreiber Pet Therapy Program are also excellent ways to get involved and brighten the days of those in need.