It seems as though the subject of volunteering always makes headlines during the holidays — but what about the rest of the year? Recently a friend reminded me that the key to happiness is being of service to others. It's easy for us to be so consumed by our daily routines that we forget about the importance of giving back — even if it's only an hour of our time. As summer approaches and more of us have more free time, here are some amazing organizations here in Los Angeles to consider volunteering for.
1. The Trevor Project
The Trevor Project is the only national, accredited suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization serving LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 24. Qualified volunteers and counselors work in various programs, including the Trevor Lifeline, a 24/7 phone line, in which volunteers answer calls from youth who might feel depressed or suicidal, or need a safe place to vent where they won’t feel judged. Volunteers also can be trained to answer texts and instant messages through TrevorChat/TrevorText, as well as to support Trevor’s safe, online community at trevorspace.org. Other volunteer opportunities include event coordinating, administrative work and community engagement. It's currently looking for volunteers for upcoming pride events. thetrevorproject.org.
2. InsideOUT Writers
An IOW student is quoted as saying, “I have exchanged my weapon for a pen, my battlefield for a blank page." InsideOUT Writers is an organization whose mission is to reduce the juvenile recidivism rate by providing a range of services that evolves to meet the needs of currently and formerly incarcerated youth, using creative writing as a catalyst for personal transformation. Thirty-nine weekly classes are held in four juvenile detention centers in the Los Angeles area, with volunteer teachers leading each class. If you're an educator, screenwriter, poet, author or journalist looking to inspire change through creative writing, this is the organization for you. insideoutwriters.org.
Groceryships is an organization whose mission is to provide long-term health and wellness to low-income families and communities. It gives scholarships to families to buy fruits, vegetables and whole grains, in addition to offering classes on healthy eating and support groups for overcoming food addiction. Volunteering opportunities include health coaching, event planning and research, among others. groceryships.org.
4. The Midnight Mission
Located in the heart of Skid Row, the Midnight Mission is the premier provider of life-changing services to people experiencing homelessness. For men, women and children, it offers emergency services, 12-step recovery, family living, job training, education and workforce-development programs, in order to build the bridge to achieve the accountability and structure that homeless people need to be healthy and productive. Volunteer opportunities include serving meals, event preparation, tutoring, providing legal services, tax preparation and motivational speaking. Calling all lawyers, CPAs and psychologists, and anyone who loves to motivate. midnightmission.org.
5. Best Friends Animal Society
Sometimes the only thing a pet needs is your love and affection. There are hundreds of cats, dogs, kittens and puppies that need caring for in the Greater Los Angeles area. Best Friends Animal Society does everything from rescuing these animals and providing medical care to spreading the word about adoption and fostering under the coalition called NKLA (No Kill Los Angeles), preventing hundreds of deaths at shelters. Volunteer opportunities include participating in puppy play groups, administrative or clinical work, coordinating fundraisers and participating in mobile adoption events. bestfriends.org.
6. Centinela Youth Services
Centinela Youth Services provides mediation and conflict resolution to the city's most vulnerable youth. It works directly with families, schools and courts to prevent juvenile incarceration. For example, if a student vandalizes the outside of a school, instead of sending them to juvenile hall, CYS will work alongside law enforcement, the court and probation with a trained volunteer to allow conflict resolution to happen between student and principal, with the intention of fostering accountability and forgiveness. If you are an adamant peacemaker, and perhaps see a future for yourself in conflict resolution, this is the place for you. cys-la.org.
Do you love to be outdoors? TreePeople inspires people to come together to plant and care for our trees in addition to influencing government agencies for a greener Los Angeles. TreePeople offers opportunities to participate in greening our city's schools, neighborhoods and parks every weekend, include working in the nursery, going to the Santa Monica Mountains and restoring our local watersheds. treepeople.org.
8. POPS the Club
POPS stands for Pain of the Prison System. It is the first high school club in the country that focuses on the needs of students whose lives have been affected by prison. Whether a student has a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle or friend incarcerated, all are welcome to join the club. Currently held in seven schools, the club meets weekly during lunchtime. Members eat, talk, write, paint and sketch, channeling the pain they feel through their art. Volunteer opportunities include guest speaking — if you have a connection and/or story related to prison, POPS would love to hear from you — and it's also looking for writers, artists, poets, painters and photographers with a passion for social justice and education. popstheclub.com.
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9. Homeboy Industries
Homeboy Industries is an organization for men and women who were previously involved in a gang and/or formerly incarcerated. It has a number of programs involving education, health care, legal services, employment and more. It even has its own brand of groceries and baked goods that you may have seen at your local Ralphs or at LAX. If you’re a psychologist, social worker or marriage and family therapist, Homeboy needs only one hour a week of your time for Homeboy Heals. And if you’re a teacher or tutor, you can sign up to help members study for their GED. Also nurses, doctors and medical professionals are always needed for Homeboy's tattoo-removal program, which removes more tattoos than any facility in the country. It is a critical step in helping former gang members obtain employment. homeboyindustries.org.
10. The Art of Elysium
The Art of Elysium works to bring together artists and hospitalized youth. The organization provides programming in fashion design, film, fine arts and music for medically disabled youth and their families. With the help of volunteer artists, it works to empower kids by providing artistic outlets for them to deal with their circumstances. The artists find it pretty enriching too. theartofelysium.org.