Numerous service opportunities are available for motorhomers looking to lend a helping hand.
By Janet Groene, F47246
In the golden book of good deeds done by FMCA members, there are many chapters (pardon the pun). Entire FMCA chapters, such as FMCA Chapter: Habitat for Humanity®, adopt projects, while many individual members work quietly alone, and others team up with groups such as RVICS (Roving Volunteers In Christ’s Service).
Most volunteer jobs are done entirely pro bono or in exchange for a campsite or other perks. However, beware of “good works” opportunities that cost you handsomely. The new wrinkle in the travel industry is to charge people $1,000 a week or more (much, much more when international airfare is involved) to work their hearts out. Even if the group is a nonprofit organization, the donations may be used primarily for high staff salaries rather than good deeds. If it’s a for-profit group, you’re simply paying someone to hook you up with an unpaid job.
One way to discern whether an organization is truly a charity is to find out whether your “donation” is all or partially tax deductible. If it is not, it might mean that you’re actually paying for services rendered and/or the “charity” is not a registered charity under IRS terms.
In previous columns we’ve reminded RVers that many volunteer activities can be tax deductible. One example was the woman who drives to northern California each year from San Diego to work in a national park for several weeks. She hadn’t known, until tax expert Julian Block surprised her with the news, that she could have been deducting her mileage, and perhaps some meals and other costs.
With that in mind, I sent out a call for legitimate RV volunteer opportunities. One way to search for charitable organizations is at www.charitywatch.org or www.charitynavigator.org. However, the information found at these sites isn’t foolproof, because many charities don’t use volunteer labor, and many good groups that do use volunteers, such as government agencies, are not listed. This doesn’t mean they aren’t worthy of your help.
The listings below will serve as the beginning of your search for a place to take your wheels, your willing hands, and your heart. It takes time and patience to do the research and follow-ups required to find the right volunteer role for you.
“We can use almost anyone,” a full-time staffer from a faith-based group reported. “Most of our paid staff are husband-and-wife teams that work long hours and wear many hats. Even if a volunteer does nothing more than answer the phone or babysit for an evening, it frees our workers to have rare time off just for themselves or to spend time doing the specialized teaching or medical tasks they were trained to do.” Most non-profits say the same thing. They can use almost any kind of help, such as filing or tending a garden. Others, however, may require a special educational background, a training period, or a security check.
Here are some groups to consider. Contact information was current at the time of publication.
- Passport In Time is an archaeological arm of the U.S. Forest Service. Spend from two days to two weeks or longer helping to find, excavate, or preserve a historic site. According to the Web site, there is no truth to recent rumors that volunteers are going to be charged for their participation. Contact (800) 281-9176 or visit www.passportintime.com for more information.
- At www.volunteer.gov/gov, many government agencies list their needs for volunteers. If an RV site is available, that’s listed too. For instance, new sites with hookups have been added at Natchez (Mississippi) National Historic Site, where a variety of volunteer skills are needed for a minimum three-month commitment. A background check is required.
- At the Bureau of Land Management, volunteers are needed to help in education and interpretation. Contact Michael A. Smith, Bureau of Land Management, 1849 C Street N.W. LS 401, Washington, D.C. 20240; (202) 452-7722; e-mail: Michael_A_Smith@blm.gov.
- Deborah Moore is national volunteer coordinator for the National Wildlife Refuge System, 4401 N. Fairfax Drive – Room 634, Arlington, VA 22203; (703) 358-2386; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- At the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the national volunteer coordinator is Cynthia Akau, DOI, Bureau of Reclamation, Denver Federal Center, Sixth & Kipling, Building 67, Room 348, 84-25110, Denver, CO 80225; (303) 445-2782; e-mail: email@example.com. Volunteer opportunities include, for example, a water reclamation project at Folsom Dam where greeters work the main desk and presenters interpret exhibits and guide visitors. Instructors are trained to teach school groups about water conservation, and many other hands are needed for clerical work, landscaping, and more.
- To volunteer with the National Park Service, contact Joy Pietschmann, servicewide volunteer program coordinator, NPS, 1201 I Street N.W., 2450, Washington, D.C. 20005; (202) 513-7141; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Barbara Gunderson is volunteer program manager for the U.S. Geological Survey. The mailing address is USGS – Room 7A203 Mail Stop 119, 12201 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, VA 20192. Call (703) 648-5245; e-mail: email@example.com.
- To volunteer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, contact Carolyn Bauer, manager, Volunteer Clearing House, (800) 865-8337; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- At the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Michele Eginoire is national volunteer coordinator. The service’s address is 5140 Park Ave., Suite C, Des Moines, IA 50321; (888) 526-3227, ext. 102.
- Under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, volunteers are needed to lead projects for families, 4-H groups, and nutrition education. Contact Ryan Joseph Schmiesing, national program leader, families 4-H, and nutrition, (202) 720–5075; e-mail: email@example.com.
- To volunteer at locations managed by the U.S. Forest Service, contact Glenda Moore, Intermountain Region (R-4), Federal Building, Ogden, Utah; (801) 625-5266; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- At www.volunteermatch.org you can search by city and the skills you have to offer. You might, for example, put “Phoenix” in the location box and “mentoring” or “environment” in the key words area to describe your abilities. A list of available volunteer needs in Phoenix will pop up.
- Animal shelters everywhere always need help cleaning, as well as walking or petting the animals and donations of old blankets, food, and funds. Just call or visit and ask how to proceed.
- Watch local bulletin boards for one-time calls to action, such as a beach cleanup or roadside beautification planting. Usually these are lively social events and a great way to meet locals when you’re a stranger in town.
- As of January 1, 2010, volunteers can receive a free ticket to one of the Disney parks in Florida or California for giving a day of service at one of the approved volunteer sites listed at www.disneyparks.com; the full URL for the volunteer site is very long, so it’s easier to find by going to the Web site and searching for a phrase such as “Disney Volunteer Free Ticket.” Also, click on “Program Terms, Conditions and FAQs” to find what you must do to obtain the free admission.
- Wycliffe Associates Bible translators have specialized skills, including translating the Bible into obscure languages that exist only in oral form. An entire community is built around each project to provide work space and housing for translators and for support staff who also serve the native community. When volunteers help the staff with building maintenance, bookkeeping, and other everyday tasks, more time can be spent on the work they were trained to do. The group’s volunteer needs are listed at www.wycliffeassociates.org/serviceopps/volunteeropps2.asp or call (800) 843-9763. The most intriguing needs that were listed at press time: a dental assistant in Dallas and an aviation mechanic to work in Brazil. The group has many posts worldwide, and there’s also work for full-timers who want to stay within North America.
If you need a paid job. If you are a retired scientist or engineer with specialized skills, temporary jobs in these fields are available through www.yourencore.com. Go to the Web site for information and an application. The company matches businesses with retirees who have time-proven executive skills needed at a certain place at a certain time. Full-timers who have these skills and are also able to bring their own housing with them should stand out over the competition.