44 ways to volunteer in Columbus

Kristen Schmidt

Dozens of charitable organizations in Columbus are fueled by the time and work donated by volunteers. Helping out can be a way to utilize an underused skill, or it can make a social or family outing into something memorable and meaningful. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to give your time to worthy causes in Columbus. We found a few dozen to get you started.

1. Help a kid get through his or her homework. Students in grades K-12 use the Columbus Metropolitan Library's Homework Help Centers to expand reading skills and work through those tough math and science questions. columbuslibrary.org

2. Teach women in transition how to cook nutritious meals. Volunteers at the YWCA Downtown facilitate cooking and nutrition workshops for residents, giving them the knowledge and skills they need to prepare meals for themselves and their children. ywcacolumbus.org

3. Give an adult the gift of reading. Literacy volunteers can give people the joy of reading for pleasure-and boost employment and education opportunities. columbusliteracycouncil.org

4. Make people feel at home. Greet and assist families who are staying at Ronald McDonald House Columbus and whose children are seriously ill. Housewarmers also assist with many of the small tasks necessary to keep the house running smoothly. rmhc-centralohio.org

5. Help someone care for a beloved pet. Older adults who want to stay at home sometimes can't also care for a cat or dog. The LifeCare Alliance Senior Pet Care program can help with that; volunteers walk, groom and feed pets (and the humans get to interact, too). lifecarealliance.org

6. Guide families to great food choices. People who volunteer in the Kroger Food Pantry at the Mid-Ohio Foodbank guide clients around the store, answer questions and help them make choices that will work for them. midohiofoodbank.org

7. Make a shelter dog's tail wag with joy. The Capital Area Humane Society loves its volunteers so much, it wrote a poem for them (check it out on the CAHS website). From walking and feeding dogs to cleaning kitty litter to interacting with potential adoptive "parents," volunteers touch virtually every aspect of the organization. cahs-pets.org

8. Share your love of Ohio with visitors. Guess who leads all those schoolchildren through tours at the Ohio Statehouse? Volunteer tour guides learn about the history and architecture of the building as well as the mechanics of the government. ohiostatehouse.org

9. Make a community garden grow. Have a knack for coaxing vegetables from your yard? The Growing Matters team helps Local Matters create gardens throughout the community. local-matters.org

10. Make room in your home for a furry friend. Colony Cats (& dogs) needs loving foster homes for adult cats, kittens and, yes, dogs. Help young kittens socialize and grow, or care for an adult animal until its forever home comes along. colonycats.org

11. Give a woman the confidence to nail a job interview. Personal shoppers help Dress for Success clients find just the right suit for interviews and, once a client lands a job, help her select other pieces for her workplace wardrobe. dressforsuccess.org

12. Help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. Community outreach volunteers for the AIDS Resource Center of Ohio help people reduce their risk of contracting the disease and, through education about the disease, help stop discrimination against people who are HIV-positive. arcohio.org

13. Create a place for a family to share a meal. Build a kitchen table and chairs at the Furniture Bank of Central Ohio so parents and kids have a gathering place for the breakfast rush and family dinners. furniturebankcoh.org

14. Get on the Bloodmobile. Did you know 97 percent of the American Red Cross staff is volunteer? You can help locally by greeting and signing in donors on the Bloodmobile or at a fixed-location blood donation center. Volunteers are also needed to keep an eye on folks (and give them cookies) after they've donated blood. redcrossblood.org/centralohio

15. Help abused women get their footing again. Work in the CHOICES shelter for victims of domestic violence, or help prevent further violence by volunteering as a community speaker

for the organization. choicescolumbus.org

16. Put fresh fruits and vegetables on hungry families' plates. During summer months, the Broad Street Food Pantry holds a farmers' market-style event to distribute fresh produce from the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. Volunteers are there to set up and break down tables and help clients as they shop. bspc.org

17. Inspire your group to help the homeless. The Open Shelter has themed days of the week to inspire families, teams, scout troops and other groups to collect much-needed items for clients. theopenshelter.org

18. Have fun with a kid on the putting green. Like golf? Fore Hope could be a great organization for you. Spend time sharing the game's athletic and social benefits (emphasis on fun!) with children or adults with disabilities. You don't need to be PGA material: "Golf skills are a bonus," says the list of volunteer requirements. forehope.org

19. Play a role in healing ailing veterans. Volunteers logged more than 58,000 hours at the Chalmers P. Wylie VA Ambulatory Care Center in Columbus last year. Greeters, receptionists and assistants are needed throughout the facility. columbus.va.gov

20. Bring normalcy back to the lives of victims of human trafficking. DOMA is dedicated to liberating women from the perils of human trafficking, and they need volunteers to help. You might work directly with a survivor, visiting her, helping with transportation or doing something as simple as watching a movie and being social. domaconnection.org

21. Take a homeless youth one step closer to employment. Help write cover letters and resumes and give advice on filling out job applications to clients of Ohio State University's Star House, which serves people ages 14-24. osustarhouse.com

22. Share your passion for nature and the environment. Columbus Audubon leans on volunteers for conservation efforts, the annual Christmas bird count and help staffing the beautiful Grange Insurance Audubon Center near the Brewery District. columbusaudubon.org

23. Appreciate art on a whole new level. Volunteer docents at the Columbus Museum of Art can open a door to a lifelong love of art for visitors young and old. It's a big commitment-training lasts nine months, and docents are asked to sign on for two years-and an incomparably fulfilling one for art lovers. columbusmuseum.org

24. Give girls a head start on the track and in life. Girls on the Run doesn't just train girls to run a 5K-the organization also imparts important lessons about staying healthy and safe. If you like the cause but don't want to commit to the training program, register to run or walk in the Nov. 16 Girls on the Run 5K-proceeds benefit the group. girlsontherunfranklincounty.org

25. Make homeownership a reality for a local family. Work alongside a future homeowner when you help build a house for Habitat for Humanity. The organization also has a Veterans Build program that lets volunteers who are also military veterans request to be placed on a project for a fellow veteran. habitatmidohio.org

26. Help the show go on. The Jewish Community Center's Gallery Players theater company relies on volunteers to run sound and lighting and to get patrons into the theater and to their seats. From the company's volunteer website: "We will teach you how to do it! No experience is necessary!" Sounds like an invitation to us. columbusjcc.org

27. Create a classic childhood camp experience. Flying Horse Farms needs people with the energy, enthusiasm and heart to give seriously ill children a camp experience they'll never forget. Supervise kids, lead activities, cook meals for campers or put your lifeguarding skills to good use. flyinghorsefarms.org

28. Work with horses to help troubled youth. Clinicians at PBJ Connections provide mental health and behavioral therapy as clients interact with horses or donkeys. People who have experience working with horses are needed, and so are people with grant-writing, public relations and business management skills. pbjconnections.org

29. Bring out the artist in others. Lend a hand to Open Door Gallery artists, or help prepare the gallery for an exhibition. Open Door is a creative home for artists with developmental disabilities. Another way to contribute: Visit the gallery 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays and buy a new piece of art for your home. opendoorartstudio.org

30. Make homeless families feel at home. Help a child with homework, serve or supervise dinner or get involved in recreational activities for the Homeless Families Foundation, which helps homeless families move into stable, permanent housing and connects them with social-service help. homelessfamiliesfoundation.org

31. Join a true community effort. Andrews House is home base for six social-service agencies and eight other organizations of varying missions, including a medical clinic, legal advice clinic, tax advice and computer learning. Programs are run by volunteers. andrewshouse.org

32. Keep horticultural history alive. The Gardens at Gantz Farm, situated next to the historic Gantz farmhouse, include plants and planting styles that represent the three different centuries in which the gardens have existed. Volunteers lead tours and workshops, help with events and tend to the gardens themselves.


33. Raise a puppy for someone's future. Canine Companions needs strong-willed and soft-hearted people to raise puppies into young adulthood before turning them over to professional trainers, who will grow them into companion animals for people with physical, intellectual or developmental disabilities. cci.org

34. Reach out to the GLBT community. Stonewall Columbus relies on volunteers for community outreach, to staff booths at festivals and other events and to otherwise get the word out about services the organization offers including social, activist and support groups, classes, health and wellness services and counseling. stonewallcolumbus.org

35. Make a home-cooked meal for folks who can't go home. Unverferth House is a temporary home to families from outside Franklin County whose loved ones are hospitalized at OSU Wexner Medical Center. Volunteers cook meals for families and help around the house.


36. Take kids on an adventure. The mission at A Kid Again is simple: "To foster hope, happiness and healing for families raising kids with life-threatening illnesses." Lend a hand on one of the activities the organization hosts every year. Excursions include a day at King's Island and a "dream night" at the zoo. akidagain.org

37. Play a role in the wellness of children and teens. The Buckeye Ranch provides inpatient and outpatient mental-health services to children and teenagers. Help with clerical duties, use horse skills at the equestrian center or play a role in facilitating and monitoring visits between families and clients. buckeyeranch.org

38. Eliminate the stigma of mental illness. One in five Americans grapple with mental illness at some point in their lives. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill Franklin County enlists volunteers for community education, public speaking, hospital outreach and legislative and policy efforts. namifc.org

39. Get wild animals back on their feet (webbed or otherwise). Help care for animals at the Ohio Wildlife Center after they're stabilized and before they're released back into their habitats. Or share your love of conservation and nature with schoolchildren who visit the center. Every year, the center admits nearly 5,000 injured, orphaned or sick wild animals-extra hands are welcome. ohiowildlifecenter.org

40. Make a kid feel great from head to toe. Since 1988, the Assistance League of Metro Columbus has offered services under the Operation School Bell umbrella, including reading and tutoring, providing shoes and haircuts for elementary-school kids and awarding scholarships for Graham School students. alcolumbus.org

41. Mentor a recent immigrant. About 150 refugee families who escaped war in Rwanda, Burundi and the Republic of Congo now live in Columbus. They are thousands of miles away from home and learning how to get by in a radically different country and culture. One of the many ways in which Rwanda Women in Action helps these refugees is through tutoring for basic English and math skills; there are plenty of other ways to get involved, too. rwia.org

42. Answer the phone when someone in crisis needs to talk. Suicide Prevention Services enlists volunteers to answer phones for its 24-hour crisis hot line. Volunteers are highly trained, and their work can help save someone's life and point them to vital mental health services. Successful candidates are empathetic and find it easy to connect with other people. suicidepreventionservices.org

43. Discover the best use of your talents. St. Stephen's Community House takes the "community" part of its name seriously, providing services to youth, seniors, families and everyone in between. Tutoring children, socializing with older adults, stocking the food pantry and assisting with the huge annual Christmas Cares program are just some of the things St. Stephen's volunteers can do. saintstephensch.org

44. Help preserve Topiary Park's magic. There's no other place quite like the painting-come-to-life that is Topiary Park; the Friends of the Topiary Park work hard to keep it that way. They're docents for tours, they staff the visitors' center and, naturally, they help keep the garden looking smashing. Volunteers are a big part of that effort. topiarygarden.org

One Way to Connect: Hands On Central Ohio

Hands On Central Ohio has existed in Columbus under one name or another since the 1970s. Today, the organization connects 10,000 volunteers each year with opportunities at 600 nonprofits in Central Ohio. People interested in giving their time can either search by keyword or ZIP code through the organization's big database, or they can sign up for a one-time project organized by Hands On.

"A lot of corporate and student groups are looking for one-time projects, not necessarily long-term, ongoing opportunities. We do a lot of one-time commitment projects on evenings and weekends. We have anything from working with kids to working with the homeless, community gardening, working with animals," says Rebeccah Verhoff, Hands On Central Ohio vice president of community engagement and strategic partnership.

Hands On also runs the 24-hour 211 line in Columbus, which people can call for information about services including child care, shelter and senior services.

"Our No. 1 call is for food, and there has been a huge increase in the last few years," Verhoff says.

Hands On Central Ohio works primarily with nonprofit organizations, though there are some opportunities with faith-based and government organizations, too. handsoncentralohio.org

One Way to Connect: Besa

Dissatisfied with his corporate job, tired of his work-eat-sleep routine but unsure how or what he wanted to change, twenty-something Matt Goldstein volunteered to answer phones for a crisis hot line, 9 a.m. to noon Saturday and Sunday.

"I wanted to do something where I felt like I was having an impact," he says. He found the opportunity after seeing a magazine ad. But he knew it wasn't so easy for everyone.

Peers complained they wanted to give their time to worthy causes, but they couldn't find opportunities or good information about charities. Goldstein recalls one person who gave up looking after a Google search for "hunger" turned up two organizations followed by a list of sites related to "The Hunger Games."

"He said, 'I couldn't find others. I don't have time for this.' That was just a missed opportunity," Goldstein says. So he created Besa (pronounced "bessa"), a sort of matchmaking service for organizations that need help and the volunteers who can do the work.

Through Besa, Goldstein asks organizations what jobs they need done and then solicits volunteers for a one-time get-together to execute the plan. One group recently reorganized the storage closet at Ronald McDonald House Columbus, a task that helps the organization function more smoothly and place greater attention on guests. Some people who've had a Besa experience return to the organization to be a regular volunteer. "It's important to connect people to purpose," Goldstein says. givebesa.org