Taking in the endless waves of the world's bad news can feel like drinking a toxic cocktail of existential anxiety and powerlessness. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the volume of problems, or to feel impotently furious about mal-distributed resources and strong whiffs of corruption. And it's tempting to tune out; stress is slowly turning us into binge-watching Netflix noodles, while bureaucracy does its molasses waltz around the issues.
But even the best-intentioned politicians can't fix everything, and while calling them about the issues close to your heart is important, people don't have to wait for them. By getting directly involved, volunteers gain a close-up understanding of the problems. And by getting to know vulnerable citizens, you acknowledge their dignity while becoming personally invested in making the community healthier for everyone.
You don't need to have a lot of money or resources to have an impact — your time and willingness are the most important things. Consider your skill set and the issues that resonate with you, and find some points of connection between what you know how to do and what you'd like to see done. Then just show up for something. If this smacks of anti-capitalism, well ... *wink, nudge*.
Here's a few specific ways to get involved and some resource sites for additional volunteer opportunities. If you want to serve your community but are short on time, check out the sidebar for a way you can help out that won't ding your schedule too hard.
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- Flower City Pickers sorts produce at Rochester Public Market.
Drive victims of police brutality to their court dates. In addition to offering transportation, the cops-and-courts-watching grassroots organization Enough is Enough fulfils a number of other roles: Volunteers attend court proceedings for cases of police brutality; the group is forming a citizen study of local police (importantly, repeat-offender officers) and how the courts handle these cases from beginning to end; and it's working to overturn legislation that protects dirty cops.
A match for those who: have a vehicle and a flexible schedule; are hip to the second half of the "one bad apple" phrase.
Sign up for a shift with Take Back the Land and help defend a homeowner from eviction. Some of our neighbors have had a life circumstance lead to the repossession of their house. While enmeshed in legal battles to work out a repayment agreement, the bank might get the sheriff to enforce the eviction. So the homeowner goes to work each day to earn the money to pay the bank, unsure if they'll return to find their locks changed. Volunteers with Take Back the Land simply offer a watchful presence that discourages the eviction, keeping families in their homes and buying time for the legal advocates to work it all out.
A match for those who: have a flexible schedule; know that housing is a human right.
Escort patients on their way to Planned Parenthood. It's become a cultural cliché that sad, judge-y people stand outside of PP, forming a frown-filled shame brigade armed with graphic propaganda pictures meant to discourage women from entering the building. That's a lot to deal with, whether you're there for a check-up, for prenatal care, for a mammogram, or yes, to terminate a pregnancy. Volunteers can give a calm, friendly presence from the parking lot to the lobby, and keep an eye out for any threatening behavior from protesters.
A match for those who: have Tuesday or Thursday afternoons open; are kind but vigilant and won't get baited by verbal abuse.
Connect: Visit plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-central-western-new-york and click the "Get involved" tab.
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- Members of Rochester Food Not Bombs.
Help Food Not Bombs and Flower City Pickers feed people. FCP has a mini bus parked at the Rochester Public Market, where on market days you can assist in sorting leftover produce collected from the farmers who vend there. Some of the food gets composted, and some is used by Food Not Bombs, a group you can join each Saturday afternoon in preparing healthy meals that are served on Saturday evenings at St. Joe's House of Hospitality.
A match for those who: have cooking or food prep skills; want to meet new friends over a good meal.
Connect: Search "Rochester Food Not Bombs" and "Flower City Pickers" on Facebook.com.
For many, homeless shelters are an abstract idea. In reality, there are people invested in making them more of a community than a mere roof overhead. St. Joe's House of Hospitality needs volunteers for its night shelter, which involves welcoming people and providing assistance as needed.
A match for those who: can spend the night away from home; know that homelessness is everyone's problem.
- PHOTO BY RENEE HEININGER
- Volunteers with City Roots Community Land Trust outside of New City Cafe. The group has volunteer opportunities for grant writers.
City Roots Community Land Trust is specifically looking for a web designer and grant writers, and in general for people to come learn about the organization and spread the word. City Roots is a nonprofit organization that owns city property and aims to improve the quality of neighborhoods while keeping housing permanently affordable. The group holds a general interest meeting on third Thursdays, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at 441 Ministries (441 Parsells Avenue).
A match for those who: have design, grant writing, or other useful skills; know that rent is too damn high.
Childcare volunteers are needed at The Crisis Nursery, which is a program of the Center for Youth that provides temporary care to babies, toddlers, and children up to age 14 during family crises (such as medical emergencies, domestic violence, and homelessness). Apply if you're 16 years or older to work four-hour shifts in a childcare setting.
A match for those who: love kids and have a patient personality; know that it really does take a village.
Connect: Email Kathy Cummins at email@example.com for more info.
Know of specific volunteer opportunities? Join the discussion by leaving a comment below. For more opportunities to volunteer year round, check out CITY's Urban Action column and our activism section of the calendar in the print paper and online.
If you don't have spare time in your life to volunteer, there are still ways to help out others.
Make care kits to keep in your car's glove compartment to hand out to panhandlers. Typical kits are a sealable plastic bag filled with snacks like energy bars or cracker packs, hand warmers, gloves, socks, hand wipes, or other useful items. The Internet is full of ideas for contents, and you can get together with friends to assemble the kits.
And many organizations accept donations of items specific to their mission. Browse the list here: communitywishbook.org/volunteers_needed.html