Given today’s frightening political climate and the bombardment of less-than-uplifting news stories, it’s hard to not throw up your hands in helplessness. Take a deep breath. One of the best ways to counter these apocalyptic thoughts is through volunteering. Pick something you’re passionate about — the environment, public health, puppies — and recognize the power of incrementalism; baby steps make the world of difference for your local community. And, studies have shown that incorporating volunteering into your schedule significantly impacts your own personal quality of life. Florida specifically has a wide network of opportunities for volunteering, ranging from food programs to state parks and assisting those with special needs. If you’re a native of the Sunshine State or even just in the neighborhood, here’s a rundown of some of the best volunteer organizations in the state.
Topping our list of the best resources for volunteering is Volunteer Florida. The website is effectively a platform that aggregates the best volunteering opportunities in any given area at any given time frame. Simply visit their homepage, type in your location, and scroll through the list of results. Options for volunteering include urban graffiti cleanups, packaging bulk food for those in need, packing bikes to be shipped to Africa, and microbrewery fundraisers supporting Alzheimer’s.
Habitat for Humanity
Due to its location, Florida is often the unfortunate recipient of storms and hurricanes that wreak havoc on local infrastructure. Last year’s hurricane Irma is a perfect example of how the warming climate is projecting to increase the intensity and frequency of these natural disasters. A well-known organization that works tirelessly to rebuild communities is Habitat for Humanity. They accept volunteers with various skills to provide structural relief to communities that have been particularly impacted by natural disasters. Whether you have a background in carpentry, or if you can’t tell the difference between a phillips and a flathead, there’s a volunteering opportunity for you. Head to their search engine to enter your zip code and locate one of the many centers across the state. Pick up the phone or shoot over an email with your skill set, interests, and availability.
Florida State Parks
Lush mangrove forests in the Everglades? Expansive coastlines of white sand and emerald water? Manatees migrating through blue springs beneath patches of lily pads? Florida is a haven for nature lovers, and its state parks would not function without volunteers. If the environment is your calling, the state has a pretty comprehensive network of 175 state parks, trails, and historic sites to lend your hand. Use the state’s volunteer portal to discover opportunities for individuals, families, church groups, or school groups. Types of volunteering include visitor services (front desk information), administration, resource management, wildlife protection, and maintenance.
Food and Health Programs
As of 2017, Florida was the 3rd-worst state in terms of health insurance coverage, 2nd-worst in terms of affordable housing, and worst in terms of unemployment insurance. Florida also has 1 in every 4 children now living below the poverty line. Conservative legislation has gutted social safety nets, and this has created a huge demand for volunteer services in the industries of health and food security. Community activists are thinking beyond the one-off Thanksgiving food drive and have implemented more meaningful permanent solutions. Feeding South Florida is an organization committed to providing immediate access to nutritious food, Food for the Poor provides more emergency-related services, and Lifenet 4 Families offers clothing, showers, case management and other basic services for those in need. Church groups usually organize different kinds of philanthropy outings, so swing by your local church and get involved whether you’re religious or not.
Help With Senior Citizens
With the baby boomer generation edging past retirement and into their later years, the demand for elderly care is becoming more and more imperative. Florida’s Department of Elder Affairs is one of the smallest state agencies called upon to serve one of the state’s largest populations. They accomplish their goals in large due to the help of volunteers. Have you ever spent time around a group of senior citizens? It’s somehow simultaneously one of the most hilarious, rewarding, adorable, and educational experiences a person could have. Some of the best elderly organizations include Americorps, the Ombudsman Program, RELIEF, and the Senior Companion Program.
Other Great Organizations
Animals – Interested in caring for shelter dogs and other abandoned animals? Volunteer Match is a great resource with loads of opportunities. Type in “animals” on the search tab on the left.
Cancer – If there’s someone in your life who has been affected by cancer, donating your time to this department will be extremely rewarding. Florida Cancer Specialists has a long track record and great rapport with cancer communities all around the state.
Special Needs – United Community Options has over 60 locations in Florida serving children and adults with a wide range of physical, intellectual, and neurological disabilities.