Food and shelter. Animal care. The Environment. Education. There are myriad opportunities throughout the state for you to have a positive impact on others—and yourself.
The idea of volunteering can sometimes create anxiety.
Time commitment concerns, not knowing what opportunities are out there, narrowing down options from the roughly 1,000 nonprofits in Delaware—these are just a few of the angst-inducing considerations.
“Just choosing the organization is an obstacle in itself,” says Kim Turner, communications director at the Food Bank of Delaware. “It’s important for individuals to do research about the cause they want to support and then choose an organization that is most in line with their ideals.”
Naomi Leibowitz, marketing and communications coordinator at no-kill animal adoption center Delaware Humane Association, says people sometimes are afraid that seeing homeless animals will be a depressing experience, or that they will want to take all the pets home but can’t, she says.
“Once they visit, however, they find it to be a wonderful, positive experience that is highly rewarding,” Leibowitz says.
Whether the nonprofit is focused on feeding and sheltering homeless, building homes, rescuing animals, protecting the environment, or preserving nature and history, they all share three characteristics:
1. Volunteers are absolutely essential. “Volunteers are the heart and soul of our organization,” says Turner. “Last year we had 15,691 volunteer visits for a total of 41,455 donated hours.” That’s the equivalent of 19 full-time staff members.
2. Programs are extremely flexible. If you can’t volunteer daily, weekly or monthly, you have the option of signing up once for an hour or two. “It is not necessary to commit large blocks of time on an ongoing basis in order to volunteer,” says Marie Keefer, deputy director of human resources at the Ministry of Caring in Wilmington. “If someone has just a few hours to help out now and then, we will be happy to find a place for them to serve.”
3. By helping others, we help ourselves. Says Turner: “While volunteers help put much-needed food into the hands of struggling Delawareans, our volunteers also tell us how good they feel volunteering. Research shows that individuals who volunteer are happier.” A recent United Health Group survey of volunteers bears out her statement. Seventy-six percent of volunteers said volunteering has made them feel healthier, and 94 percent said it improves their mood.
So help others while feeling better about yourself by checking out these opportunities and finding one or more that fit your interests and your schedule:
Food & Meal Programs
“We provide Delawareans with their most basic need – food. We believe that no one should have to go hungry in our state,” says Turner of the Food Bank of Delaware.
Aside from flexible daytime volunteer opportunities, the Food Bank offers evening hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays and select Saturdays during the month. Work includes sorting, stocking, organizing and packaging foods, along with clerical and teaching opportunities in nutrition and health.
Get involved: fbd.org.
Last year, more than 100 volunteers worked more than 7,500 hours delivering fresh, hot, nutritious meals to the elderly and homebound through Meals On Wheels Delaware. “We deliver about 130 meals every day,” says Stefanie Thomas, nutrition director and Meals On Wheels coordinator at the Newark Senior Center. “Without the volunteers that would not be possible. They are the backbone to this program.”
Delivering meals takes only about an hour to an hour-and-a-half, and Thomas says many people do this on their lunch break. Detailed directions are provided for volunteers; each route includes eight to 17 stops.
Get involved: mealsonwheelsde.org.
Wilmington nonprofit Connecting Generations creates volunteer opportunities through its Creative Mentoring Program, which supports in-school programs for at-risk youth in all three Delaware counties. Free training is provided for mentors.
The program started in 1996 with 60 mentors in nine Delaware schools. Today more than 2,500 mentors are working in 70 schools throughout the state. Volunteers have served more than 12,000 people, a third of the number of students from low-income homes in Delaware schools. While this represents progress, the organization is always in need of mentors to better serve the community.
Get involved: connecting-generations.org.
Similar organizations include Urban Promise (urbanpromise.org) and AmeriCorps (nationalservice.gov/programs/americorps).
Serving the Homeless
The Sunday Breakfast Mission provides shelter for more than 200 homeless men, women and children nightly, and the Ministry of Caring annually serves about 179,236 meals. They also provide a network of social, health and support services to help individuals get back on their feet. This creates a plethora of volunteer opportunities, ranging from serving or cooking meals to providing mentoring, child-care services and legal aid.
Says Keefer: “Volunteers often get a sense of belonging, and enjoy the social aspect of working with other staff members for a common goal.” She says it also helps with résumé-building as well as learning or enhancing specific skills.
For volunteers who are unavailable weekdays, Keefer says Ministry of Caring programs like the Emmanuel Dining Room are open on weekends.
Get involved: sundaybreakfastmission.org; ministryofcaring.org or contact Keefer at 428-3652 or by email at email@example.com.
A similar organization is Sojourners’ Place (sojournersplace.org).
More than 7,600 people live in substandard housing conditions in New Castle County alone. Habitat for Humanity of New Castle County combats this need by building more than 20 homes a year for low-income families at a price of $125,000-$130,000 each.
Habitat currently is seeking help in recovering the Wilmington neighborhoods of East Side, Eastlawn, Gander Hill, 11th Street Bridge, and Vandever Avenue, along with East Lake Street in Middletown.
Get involved: habitatncc.org/about-us.
Playing with puppies. All day. What could be a better happiness-booster?
Volunteers at the Delaware Humane Association can foster animals in their homes to prepare them for adoption, groom, take adoption photos, assist with administrative and customer service tasks, aid medical department staff, promote DHA, do landscaping, and more.
Leibowitz notes that DHA is a great place for families to volunteer together, and people who are not able to keep a pet at home can have the opportunity to spend time with them at DHA instead.
“The ultimate goal is to ensure that the animals are happy, healthy, trained and well-socialized,” says Leibowitz. “This improves their chances for adoption and reduces the amount of time they spend in the shelter prior to adoption.”
Volunteers are needed seven days a week. Walk a dog one hour a week and it will make a major difference, Leibowitz notes. Volunteer opportunities also are available at the association’s satellite adoption centers (PetSmart at Brandywine Town Center and Concord Pet Foods and Supplies at Chestnut Run Shopping Center and The Shoppes of Graylyn) as well as off-site events that may be more convenient for volunteers.
Get involved: dehumane.org.
Similar organizations include Delaware SPCA (delspca.org), Faithful Friends Animal Society (faithfulfriends.us) and National Humane Society (humanesocietynational.org).
If you’re passionate about the environment and building community, Wilmington’s Delaware Center for Horticulture (TheDCH) may the place for you. Make a local impact by joining greening initiatives like community gardens, which produce healthy food for people who need it; plant trees, do public landscaping, improve air quality, serve on committees and more.
“We have episodic opportunities at different times throughout the year, so people can come out and volunteer once,” says Membership and Volunteer Coordinator Marcia Stephenson. “We also have some opportunities for volunteers to do important tasks from home, or on their own schedule as time allows, such as data entry or flyer distribution.”
Get involved: thedch.org.
One-third of the work done in Delaware State Parks is conducted by volunteers—the equivalent of 57 full-time staff members.
Says Glen Stubbolo, chief of volunteer and community involvement: “We borrow from the experiential learning model of ‘challenge by choice’ by offering opportunities for folks to volunteer at their skill, comfort and interest level.”
Internships for all college majors are available, along with trail work, conservation projects and special events. Volunteers also can work at the Nature Center, on musical, theater and historical projects, and more.
“Delaware State Parks is prepared to meet people where they are at and do what we can to craft a volunteer activity that meets the volunteers’ needs and interests as well as a need in the park,” says Stubbolo.
Get involved: Fill out the online application at DEStateParks.com/VolunteerApplication.
Volunteers at the Delaware Historical Society, which was founded in 1864, are vital to the success of the Delaware History Museum, the Read House & Gardens, the Research Library and all areas of programming and operation at DHS.
Get involved: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 655-716.
Similar organizations include the New Castle Historical Society (newcastlehistory.org), Longwood Gardens (longwoodgardens.org), Winterthur (winterthur.org) and Hagley Museum & Library (hagley.org).
These highlights cover only a small percentage of the many volunteer opportunities available throughout the state. More can be found here: greatnonprofits.org/state/Delaware.