This spring, parents looking for opportunities for their children to give back to the community and help where it is needed have many options.
“We are lucky this year,” says Amanda Forget, volunteer services and communications coordinator for Serve Rhode Island. “Earth Day falls on the last weekend of the April break, so there are park cleanups scheduled throughout the state.”
Serve Rhode Island is the state’s clearinghouse and connector for volunteers and the nonprofits that need them, as well as the administrator of the federally funded AmeriCorps program. The Volunteer Portal (serverhodeisland.galaxydigital.com/) allows volunteers to browse opportunities, and nonprofits and schools to post their needs.
“Last year, we did massive cleanups in 22 parks,” says Forget. “Serve Rhode Island was responsible for Roger Williams Park and we had more than 250 volunteers work for a few hours cleaning up debris along the trails and in the waterways.”
Children of all ages are welcome, but those younger than 14 should be accompanied by an adult.
Local food pantries also are looking for volunteers, according to Cindy Downie, food pantry administrator at the First Baptist Church in Pawtucket.
“We always welcome volunteers, especially the children,” says Downie. “Most of our clients are elderly and really appreciate the help — and enjoy the interaction.”
Volunteers help restock the shelves, organize clothing racks and help clients do their shopping. “The students could help pass the food out to clients,” says Downie. “And we have a clothing closet where students could help clients pick things out that they might like.”
The church food pantry serves about 135 families monthly. It’s open Thursdays from 9 a.m. to noon except the first Thursday of the month, when it’s closed.
“This past February vacation we had kids in to volunteer who were very helpful,” says Downie. “The kids enjoyed meeting the clients and enjoyed helping people, and the clients enjoyed it, too. It’s good for them to help other people and realize that not everyone has all the basic needs. Giving back to the community helps foster a sense of belonging for everyone.”
There are more than 120 Rhode Island Community Food Bank member pantries throughout Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts, so finding a nearby pantry should be easy. Visit rifoodbank.org/get-involved/volunteer-in-the-community/ for a list of pantries.
If working with animals and nature appeals to your teen, there are opportunities at Roger Williams Park Zoo and the Nature Conservancy of Rhode Island. Both organizations ask that a prospective volunteer fill out an application, sign a waiver and come in for an interview.
In one program, teen volunteers go through a training program to become part of the Zoo Crew. After one year in the program, they are promoted to a Junior Keeper and work alongside the animal keepers.
“It’s a great opportunity for kids to get their feet wet and see what the zoo is all about,” said Andrea Crofton, volunteer coordinator. “Once you go through the training program, there are other opportunities for volunteers throughout the year. For example, during the April break we are having a Party for the Planet event for the week leading up to Earth Day.”
Training programs take place throughout the year. Check rwpzoo.org/136/volunteer-zoo, or call (401) 785-3510, ext. 356, for more information.
The Nature Conservancy also has an application process and welcome students 16 years and older.
We’re always open to people volunteering,” said Scott Cummings, associate state director. “We have almost 80 miles of trails in the state and we’re building another three or four miles of trails right now, so we can use the extra hands.”
The Nature Conservancy typically schedules two or three work days during the week leading up to Earth Day.
“We usually schedule some volunteer work sessions on one or two specific projects like building trails or bridges and benches,” says Cummings. Typically, 10 to 12 volunteers come for the work days, and sometimes as many as 20 people sign up to help.
“Usually when we have students they’re working with hand tools, trimming back sides, carrying lumber, moving brush, helping construct bridges and boardwalks,” said Cummings. “We make sure we have enough people on staff to help make sure that everyone does it safely, learns something in the process and has a great day out in nature. That keeps them coming back year after year.”
For more information on volunteering for the Nature Conservancy, visit nature.org or call Cummings at (401) 466-2129, ext. 306.
— Liz Klinkenberg is a regular contributor to The Providence Journal. She can be reached at email@example.com.