As classes finish for the semester, many students go home to spend the holidays with their friends and family. Others prefer to spend time making the holidays special for those in need.
There are a number of organizations that have volunteer programs in place and are looking for assistance throughout the holidays and year round.
A variety of opportunities are available for anyone’s interests, such as cooking, sports, construction or mentoring.
The Police Athletic League of Philadelphia (PAL) offers a range of sports programs – both educational and recreational – to boys and girls ages 6 to 18.
Under the supervision of Philadelphia police officers, these programs were developed to provide a racially and economically diverse group of children opportunities to excel.
The goal is to provide free-of-charge programs in a safe environment, as to promote a better relationship between police officers and area youth.
Maria Deitos and Adam Steiger, both sophomores at Temple, volunteer with PAL. One day a week, for two hours, they tutor children by aiding and encouraging them with their homework; the remainder of the time is spent playing sports, including tennis and basketball, with the kids.
“I volunteered all through high school and I just missed it,” Deitos said. “Besides, I like working with little kids.”
“I am sure there are bad things that the older ones could be doing,” Steiger said. “So, just to keep them tied up [is good].”
By being raised Jewish and attended a synagogue that was active in the community, senior criminal justice major Hallie Fischer and her family are active volunteers.
“It was always something important to my family and it became important to me,” Fischer stated.
Fisher has been volunteering since high school and has helped at a number of organizations, including SHARE Food Program, the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House, Temple University Community Service Association and several homeless shelters.
SHARE Food Program Inc. offers a variety of food packages to meet the needs of the community. By participating in two hours of community service, people of all income levels can buy food bundles at more than a 50 percent discount.
SHARE succeeds due to its high level of participation and the dedication of its volunteers who help bag and distribute the food.
The Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House is a home for families of seriously ill children, and a place where parents can provide a support network for each other. Volunteers assist in the kitchen through the Guest Chef Program, answer phone calls, write thank you letters to donors, and greet new families and visitors.
Fischer particularly liked these organizations because she said they provided a sense of community.
“You are not doing volunteering for money,” Fischer said. “You are doing it to help because you want to. You feel satisfied and successful when you walk out of there.”
There are resources available for students that are considering volunteering but are not quite sure what organization to work for.
The United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania has a collaborative Web page that connects volunteers with a vast number of opportunities. The site asks specific questions about the type of work potential volunteers would like to do, the groups they might want to work with and a variety of other questions. It ensures that the viewer has direct access to the opportunities that best serve their needs and goals.
Also, by registering with Volunteer Way, a person can have e-mail alerts sent to their inbox about volunteer opportunities that arise.
United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania provides health and human services to children, youth and adults. In the past, they have trained mentors for young people, increased social activities for senior citizens, and provided technological resources and Internet access to low-income homes and community technology centers.
“Our goal is to mobilize resources to improve the quality of people’s lives,” said Bill England, director of Civic Engagement of United Way.
England noted that one of his favorite projects allows volunteers to provide free tax assistance for working families.
Project Warmheart, which is also part of the campaign, provides basic weatherization on homes “to help reduce energy use and keep families safe and warm through the winter,” England said.
England is a firm believer in the importance of volunteer services. “Look for an opportunity when you can try it out and you’re going to like it,” England stated.
He suggested choosing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, which falls on Jan. 15. “You will find yourself looking for other opportunities of service,” England said.
A second useful resource for those considering volunteering is Greater Philadelphia Cares, an organization which motivates people to volunteer by giving them a variety of choices, including over 100 service opportunities each month.
This establishment addresses the needs of the community in several ways. Among them are programs to strengthen families, stress children’s education, and assist people with disabilities.
“Greater Philadelphia Cares helps people to put their innate desire into action,” said Lissa Hilsee, president and CEO. “Everyone has the innate desire to help other people and we put that in a way that offers real tangible outcomes.”
As the founder of Greater Philadelphia Cares, Hilsee understands the importance of volunteers.
“[It is] each individual person’s decision whether volunteering is for them or not,” she said. “But at least they have the resources available.”
Colleen Dunn can be reached at email@example.com.