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Openmind Projects

DePaul University Student Volunteer

Image source: Inspiredideations.wordpress.com

As someone with a limited budget and an unlimited imagination, I’m always attracted to low-cost volunteer experiences with organizations that still hold themselves to top-of-the-line standards. There aren’t a ton of organizations that do both and understandably so. It costs money to be idealistic. I feel so jaded just writing that. I’m reminded of my college freshman self, that girl who was so determined never to get paid for her art. Back in those days I was making a very popular podcast with thousands of viewers, but I refused any kind of compensation. I was making it for the right reasons! I wasn’t about to sell out! I think a lot of the volunteer organizations that share that idealism fail. They fail because they can’t support their staff, they can’t fund new projects, and they can’t invest in marketing or publicity. On the opposite extreme are the greedy organizations—the groups that charge exorbitant fees and pocket most of them. They may look professional and flashy, and for good reason: they’ve got plenty of money. Clearly there is a happy medium here, an organization that remembers the details but doesn’t sweat the luxury.

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The Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation

Khmer Ranger from Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation

Image source: Crcfresno.org

When the average America thinks of high-profile humanitarian work, she probably thinks of Angelina Jolie. Of all the activist celebrities, only Jolie has become a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations. She’s a glamorous celebrity, and I think that makes it easy to dismiss her, but in truth she has helped an extraordinary number of people. From the point of view of my very non-Hollywood life, she seems superhuman. She has six kids, acts in movies, and manages to devote a huge percentage of her time traveling to far off places to give back. I think we should all be looking to her for guidance. She has all the privilege in the world and yet, she uses her power for good! She could be basking in the spotlight, frolicking in the Riviera, and showing off her crazy handsome fiance. Instead, she works hard, every day, to make the world a better place.

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Volunteer Vacations with the Washington Trails Association

Mount St. Helens and Spirit Lake

Image source: Democracyforvancouver.org

My husband and I fell in love in a Washington forest. We’re both avid hikers and we met beneath the trees, I was searching for mushrooms in the leaf litter, he was peering up into the treetops, and we collided, our tin cooking pots clanking in the silent forest. We’ve been hiking together ever since, in the redwood forests of California, the evergreen forests of Maine, and the lush maple and oak forests of our native New York. But Washington will always have our hearts. This is why the volunteer opportunities with the Washington Trails Association jumped out at me. They offer volunteers the opportunity to spend their days on the trails, clearing brush, repairing tread, improving drainage, and even logging out fallen trees with a crosscut saw. To a forest lover like me, this sounds like an ideal opportunity for relaxation, meditation, exercise, adventure, and fun.

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Go Voluntouring!

Aaron Smith Founder of GoVoluntouring

Image source: Yourtravelchoice.org

You may not know it to look at me but I’m a pretty disorganized person. I manage to keep track of bills and work but when it comes to the less immediately critical things like where my clothes are, what I’m making for dinner, getting cat food, or remembering birthdays, I’m hopeless. I do my best—I keep lists, have about eighteen date books, and try desperately to integrate electronic calendars into my routine—but at the end of the day I always find myself sorting through random papers wondering why life is so darn complicated! This is why I love it so much when other people do the organizing for me. One day, when I’m rich, I’ll hire a devilishly organized personal assistant to ferry me from place to place, put the ingredients for chicken vindaloo in my hands at dinner time, and color code my closets. Until then, I’ll savor the free organizational services of projects like Go Voluntouring.

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Blue Ventures: Discovery Through Research

Blue Ventures Malaysia Project

Image source: Odt.co.nz

There is a close relationship between environmental conservation work and helping people. In many cases, like that of the Galapagos Islands, the restoration of habitats and rebuilding of populations leads to an increase in ecotourism that benefits a local region economically. In other cases, conservation directly impacts a community’s ability to find food, to farm, and to enjoy their own backyards. Conservation also has a watershed effect… literally. As habitats are cleaned up, the entire ecosystem improves, and that includes fresh water sources. Polluted bodies of fresh water harm humans just as much as they harm animals. If a community is located on the seashore, deep sea conservation efforts often have an immediate effect on the shallow fishery. More healthy fish means more food for humans, and it means a healthier economy to boot. The food chain is a complex system. When it is disrupted at any point, that disruption has a domino effect down the chain in both directions. Conservation projects teach us that humans are part of that chain. We suffer when it is disrupted too.

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