Lend a Hand

Need for local volunteers grows steadily

Beginning last month, many Americans suddenly had volunteering on their minds. For two weeks, their favorite TV-show plots all revolved around community service, and Michelle Obama, Morgan Freeman, Faith Hill and other stars spoke to them during commercial breaks about the importance of giving back. It seemed as though all of Hollywood was on the volunteer bandwagon. That’s because it was.

The Entertainment Industry Foundation — a nonprofit organization run by the entertainment community — partnered with ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC in October to create a blitz public service campaign to promote volunteering, called iParticipate. The prime-time infiltration is part of a multiyear project to generate heightened awareness about the value of community service.

EIF’s message was nothing new to San Diegans, though.

“Since the 2007 fires, there has been an increase in volunteerism in San Diego,” said Sue Carter, executive director of Volunteer San Diego, a nonprofit Web site that connects San Diegans with volunteer opportunities. “During the fires, people really stepped up and got involved in some way, and that has continued today.”

From food and toy drives during holiday season to fundraiser 10K runs and beach cleanups throughout the year, San Diegans have maintained a calendar full of various one-day volunteer events.

However, the economic recession has brought new opportunities. With significant budget and staff cuts, many nonprofits lack the resources to recruit and train volunteers. Yet, they have more of a need than ever for long-term help, especially with administrative tasks such as marketing and Web site design and maintenance.

“This is an ideal opportunity for job hunters,” said Carter, who suggests they find volunteer positions that teach new business skills or develop current ones.

In addition, long-term volunteer opportunities promote networking and socialization, said Janice Kurth, president of the Del Mar Rotary Club, which supports local and international charities through service projects and scholarships to children.

Among international projects, including volunteering post-tsunami in Indonesia, and local services, such as maintaining and restoring the San Dieguito River Park, Kurth has seen Rotary volunteers of all ages make lasting business and personal connections.

“When you have a group of people who come together for the purpose of serving, all of a sudden, the relationships and friendships that are created are so much more gratifying and strong,” Kurth said. “And what better purpose is there than serving and giving back?”

Regardless of the time commitment or motivation, volunteering in San Diego has grown far beyond once-yearly soup kitchens or toy drives; it has developed into a community initiative to help San Diego’s diverse nonprofits grow and prosper, while allowing the volunteers to grow and prosper as well.

Looks like Hollywood could take a cue from us.

Volunteer opportunities

For animal lovers:

  • Spend the day at the beach, educating visitors about San Diego’s other furry friends — the seals — as a Friends of the Seals docent in La Jolla. (619) 687-3588;
  • Snuggle and play with some of the thousands of homeless animals in San Diego at Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe. Or participate in the center’s Therapeutic Horseback Riding program or P.E.T, in which volunteers take animals to visit patients in convalescent homes, hospitals, shelters and mental health facilities. (858) 756-4117;
  • Perform search-and-rescue for wildlife in trouble and prevent wildlife problems for animals and humans through Wildlife Assist, which operates throughout San Diego and North County. (858) 278-2222;

Nature lovers:

  • Workout, socialize and soak up the sun while eradicating beach litter with a beach cleanup. Organize your own or join one of the many that happen throughout the year, such as with the San Diego Coastkeeper. (619) 758-7743;
  • Get out those power tools and get ready to dig, drill and saw your way to a pristine San Dieguito River Park. Become a Dust Devil and work on trail maintenance and habitat restoration, or get trained as a river valley docent. (858) 674-2270;

Art and fashion lovers:

  • Surround yourself with creativity at the Del Mar Art Center, which fosters awareness and understanding of fine arts, visual arts and artists. (858) 481-1678;
  • Channel your inner fashionista at a local thrift store. Besides the opportunity to shop (constantly), you will help raise money to support your favorite nonprofit. Contact the nonprofit to see if they have a thrift store near you.
  • Spread your love of music and theater as a volunteer usher at a local symphony or playhouse ... and see a few free shows in the process. La Jolla Symphony & Chorus is looking for volunteers, among others. (858) 534-4637;

Education lovers:

  • Explore San Diego’s rich past at a local historical society, such as the La Jolla Historical Society. (858) 459-5335;
  • San Diego Public Library branches offer a multitude of opportunities, from tutoring to book shelving, and everything in between. Contact your local branch or visit
  • Share your business expertise and advice with local small-business owners throughout the county through ACCION San Diego. 685-1380;