Make a Difference: Volunteer With Your Friends

I know in my heart that community service does immense good, but finding the time among other priorities — work, family, friends — feels daunting. After some reflection, I realized that one way to make more time for volunteering and for my friends was to combine the two — and take on service opportunities with my closest pals.

This led us to start volunteering together at after-school programs, helping kids with literacy. We discuss books one-on-one with students and then work in groups to encourage them to be passionate and confident about their reading abilities. It’s been wonderful to see their skills develop, and over the last few years, I’ve even kept in touch with some of the students. Previously, I thought volunteer work was a solo activity, but it can be a great way to meet new friends or spend a day with old ones. Instead of hitting the movies, why not make a difference together? Here are a few ideas for how to volunteer together as a group:

If you and your friends love the arts

Do you love music? Instead of karaoke, sing at organizations like Institutes of Applied Human Dynamics or Art Therapy without Borders. You’ll perform songs for elderly folks or adults with disabilities. You’ll not only entertain and provide company, but also increase arts appreciation for those who need it most. You can sing with patients to brighten their days, but can also dance, draw, and work on creative projects that champion arts therapy.

If you want to hone those décor skills, you can also work together painting and furnishing up-and-coming schools and nonprofits; VolunteerMatch connects you to organizations looking for volunteers in your area. Skip the pricey paint nite and support organizations looking for that leg up!

If you’re voracious readers

Maybe you have a book club, and can’t put your favorite novels down. This describes my friends, so we’ve volunteered as reading mentors, tutoring underserved youth. Bonding with students about books has made me see the direct, personal influence of my service. I’ve learned how to connect with kids from different backgrounds through our mutual interests. It’s amazing to see reticent students blossom after being supported with individual respect and attention. When we’re done reading with individual students, my friends and I perform dramatic readings for the kids! Organizations like Reach Out and Read can connect you with these opportunities. You can also contact your local elementary school and ask about reading or tutoring programs there.

If you love sports

Are you and your friends super active? I can’t relate because I’m a klutz, but many of my friends are gym buddies who play intramurals. If that’s you, look into your local parks and recreation department or community center. Cities often need volunteers for summer camps or sports programs in low-income communities, boosting a sense of sportsmanship and helping underserved students develop hobbies and goals. Instead of jogging together with friends, you all can join fitness initiatives that help those in need.

If you’re looking for a way to grow your faith

If spirituality is central to your life and friendships, look into a unique volunteer opportunity: pastoral care. Organizations like Spiritual Care Association seek volunteers of all faiths to provide spiritual support for hospital patients. If you and your friends are called to interfaith work, but can’t find opportunities that meet everyone’s religious needs, this is ideal. Patients are grateful for guidance in hard times. Like tutoring, some opportunities have you meet individually with patients, and others allow for a multi-faith group. Both provide you with skills to better relate to and support people in hard circumstances.

If you have perpetual wanderlust

Love to travel? If you want to take service further, skip a conventional spring break and try Bridges to Community. International volunteers travel to Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic where they support construction projects and initiatives for reducing hunger and homelessness. Many are faith-based, but others aren’t; all are geared towards helping communities flourish at their full potential. Nothing will deepen friendships like broadening your cultural horizons and helping support local communities. BTC is one example, but there are many organizations looking for volunteers willing to take this leap.

If you’re animal lovers

If you love cute dogs and cats, search chapters of groups like Best Friends or Adopt-a-Dog that connect needy pets with loving families. My friends and I constantly send pictures of doggos back and forth and jump at offers to pet-sit. We realized our love can be used to help animals who really need it. You can meet potential dog owners at events, or volunteer directly with dog handling to help socialize downtrodden dogs— meaning you and your pals can serve by playing with them. The love is mutual!

Maybe your love of animals goes further! For horse lovers, there’s equine therapy, designed to empower people with physical disabilities. Think groups like Hope Springs in Pennsylvania and GallopNYC. Or look for equine therapy orgs local to you. You can divvy up responsibilities: Some volunteers lead new riders, helping them to feel comfortable and supported, and others groom horses and make barn homes hospitable. Longtime horse lovers can serve, but so can those new to equestrian culture, helping both horses and their motivated riders looking for extra help.

Even if you have different hobbies, like my friends and me, there are volunteer service opportunities for everyone. When volunteers have fun together, it’s infectious, and a tangible bonus for those being served. Get started today!

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