Monday, August 12, 2013

Got Extra Free Time? Give Volunteering a Try

When you have a job that leaves you with even less than what most would see as part-time, you might discover that you're alone a lot, doing pretty much nothing. Sure, you can zonk out on Netflix for days at a time (seems like everyone in my generation is capable of this evil), but there are certainly more valuable ways to spend your time. For two years, I've worked less than 20 hours per week. But instead of bemoaning the fall of the economy and becoming another zombie who has watched every episode of The X-Files five times, I decided I would do something else: I would volunteer.

I didn't realize it at the time, but doing this would allow me to to socialize, something I had lost when I started working from home. But there weren't just benefits in it for me; advantages abound when a person volunteers for at least three beneficiaries: the volunteer, the organization, and whomever the organization wants to help. This might mean working at a food pantry or meal program downtown--such as God's Kitchen, Mel Trotter, Westminster Pantry--or finding a foundation with goals that fit your personality. Here are some organizations that I enjoy:

Community Media Center

The Community Media Center has been in operation for more than 25 years. According to the group, it has "acquired and maintained technology, tools, media services and venues to benefit the Grand Rapids community." This organization is in charge of the Rapidian, a news outlet described as "very local" because it is a citizen-contributed new source. CMC also runs Wealthy Theatre, a venue used for many things including films, concerts, and community meetings. Volunteers can help run concessions; become a programmer for CMC's radio station, 88.1 FM WYCE; contribute to the community television station, GRTV; the list goes on and on. If you want to get in touch with this organization, head to

Well House

If media and technology do not interest you, maybe spending some of your extra time at Well House will. This organization "provides safe, affordable housing to the homeless." Unlike other shelters though, this facility does not use a blanket approach for all people who reside under its roof. Each person is treated as an individual with different issues than any one other person. By recognizing this, Well House has given many of the residents a better chance at recovering and reintegrating with the community. Volunteers can help renovate the house, work in the art studio, or assist with the urban farm. I can't end this description without commenting on how stylish this organization's website looks: It's really crisp and simple. Be sure to check it out at

Creative Youth Center

The many communities of Grand Rapids that could use your
help. (Image courtesy of the Community Research Institute)
If you would rather work with kids, the Creative Youth Center may be for you. This group hopes to better students by working on their writing skills, both in and out of school. Honestly, this is one of my favorite nonprofits in GR, largely because I love writing and each child that works with the CYC becomes a published writer--how cool! In addition to that, volunteers help provide tutoring after school in any subject that a student brings to the table. Volunteers can also help students become reporters through the Rapidian--proof that nonprofits in Grand Rapids can collaborate to provide even more benefits to the community. All of the programs are free to students of Grand Rapids Public Schools. Visit their website (also rather swanky) at

So, if you have more time on your hands than you know what to do with, consider reaching out to one of these organizations. If none of these groups interest you, why not work for your neighborhood association and help make your region of the city a better place to live? Use this website to figure out the contact information for your local association.