By Lowell and Kaye Christie, F47246
Countless opportunities exist for motorhomers to use their time and talents to help make the world a better place.
Forty-five million Americans are involved in some kind of volunteer activities. Eighty-five thousand of them volunteer in the country’s park systems “” national, state, county, and local. Many parks cannot afford enough salaried personnel to get all the work done, so volunteers fill the gaps, performing services that couldn’t be offered otherwise.
However, the giving isn’t a one-sided proposition. Volunteers commit to spend their time and energy, but the payoff is the opportunity to meet people who share their interests and, equally important, the chance to learn and do things they already enjoy.
1 Who Volunteers? Volunteering is an American tradition, and it certainly has made an immeasurable contribution to communities, to organizations, and to individuals across the land. People of all ages are involved in worthwhile causes. Some start young. Students and scout troops volunteer to do everything from cleaning up a park to repairing or building campground facilities. By the time these youngsters reach adulthood, they’re hooked on community service. RVers volunteer often, welcomed because they come equipped with their own living quarters.
2 What Do They Get Out Of It? The benefits of volunteering are different for everyone. Volunteers meet and work with people who share their own interests, people who come from a broad range of backgrounds. Along with the break from their usual routine, volunteers gain new skills and work experience. It’s a great way to learn something new, and, what’s more, it can be a whole lot of fun.
3 Who Needs Volunteers? Just about any school, library, or community center benefits from volunteers, but we’ll start with places that have the strongest lure to travelers: parks at the national, state, and local levels. Then we’ll progress to other interesting possibilities.
4 National Parks. The National Park Service has far more volunteer opportunities than paying jobs, so it’s pretty easy to find a position there. Every unit of the system welcomes volunteers. The centerpiece of their recruiting effort is the Volunteers-In-Parks (VIP) Program. The program’s Web site, www.nps.gov/volunteer, includes information about volunteering, a list of volunteer opportunities, and an application form. You also can learn more by visiting a national park, or by calling (202) 208-4747.
5 Other National Park Service Opportunities. Volunteers also are needed for special park service programs such as the Archeology and Ethnography Program, the Museum Management Program, and the National Trails Program. Information relating to a specific park or state is available at www.nps.gov/gettinginvolved/volunteer/opportunities.htm.
6 State Parks. State parks also need volunteers. Projects might include working in information booths, conducting interpretive programs, monitoring wildlife, campground hosting, environmental work, and a multitude of other possibilities. Group projects often involve park and trail cleanup or building restoration. For an extensive list of links to volunteer opportunities at a broad range of state parks, check out www.usparks.about.com/od/stparkvolunteers/state_park_volunteer_opportunities.htm.
7 Narrowing Down The Search. One excellent way to find a position in specific state parks is an Internet search. Visit a search site such as www.google.com, and in the search window type in words such as “volunteer state parks,” followed by your state of interest. Searching for “volunteer California state parks” (without the quotes) brought us almost 2 million results. If that’s too many, be more specific in your query. Adding “redwood” to our search cut the results by three-quarters. Fortunately, the closest matches occur at the beginning of the list.
8 Another Option For Volunteers. You might consider participating in a one-time park cleanup or conservation project in your own area, or in the area you’re headed for. To find out what activities are taking place, and where, contact environmental groups such as the local Sierra Club or National Audubon Society chapter.
9 U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service. Here’s a place where volunteers can have a wild experience! Every year more than 23,000 people of all ages donate a million hours of service, helping care for the nation’s fish and wildlife. Volunteers can help by monitoring bird populations, leading students on a field trip to a refuge, or clearing trails and stocking fish. Every refuge has its own needs. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is quick to send out the message: “If you want to help, we need you!” For more information about opportunities, visit www.fws.gov.
10 Bureau Of Land Management (BLM). All BLM offices welcome volunteers, who are put to work on jobs similar to those performed by the paid employees. Whether they plant trees, restore a historic area, or answer questions from the public, volunteers benefit from the experience of caring for the nation’s natural and cultural resources. The BLM, of course, benefits from their efforts. The agency encourages volunteers to help provide habitat for plants and animals, as well as work to protect historic evidence of our past, from fossils to Native American artifacts to ghost towns. Read about volunteer activities and discover service opportunities within the BLM by visiting www.blm.gov. Select “Resources” from the menu, then click “Volunteers.”
11 Still More Options. Consider organizing your own park cleanup or conservation project. If you travel a lot with family and friends, pick one of your favorite destinations and have a brainstorming session about what would make your own experience more enjoyable. Another alternative is to join a group such as FMCA Chapter: Habitat For Humanity®. Volunteers in this group travel to different parts of the country in their motorhomes to help build houses for folks who otherwise would not have the means to own a home. It’s a great way to utilize your time, energy, and skills to assist others in need and to make a significant impact in their lives.
12 Senior Corps. Persons over the age of 55 have an organization that connects them with groups that need their services. Conceived during John F. Kennedy’s presidency, Senior Corps currently links more than 500,000 Americans to volunteer opportunities. The contribution of skills, knowledge, and experience delivered by the seniors make a real difference to individuals; nonprofit groups; faith-based organizations; and other community groups throughout the United States. For more information, visit www.seniorcorps.org.
13 Check Out This Dynamite Web Site. The U.S. government maintains a terrific Web site, www.volunteer.gov/gov, which has an online database of volunteer opportunities both at national agencies and in individual states. You can search by keywords, zip codes, and specific areas of interest. Here you’ll find entries about national events such as Make a Difference Day, National Volunteer Week, and National Trails Day. Or check out positions available under headings such as Archaeology, Campground Hosts, Computers, Tour Guide Interpretation, and dozens of other possibilities.
Try volunteering. It’s an experience you’ll enjoy.