Even if it’s not quite time to make (and break) some New Year’s resolutions, every season is a great one for giving back to the city you live in. It’s fulfilling to exercise goodwill and get involved in causes you care about -- whether that’s helping out your neighbors, rescuing animals, conserving the environment, standing up for minorities, or cleaning up litter (we’re looking at you, Philadelphia).
Luckily, websites like VolunteerMatch make it easy to find projects in the City of Brotherly Love that need volunteers, like you, to show the love and change some lives. We took a page from their book and spotlighted 25 local chapters and organizations who could use your assistance, whether through volunteer work or donations (or both).
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Join the Philly Paws animal-loving community, which helps to save the lives of the city’s animals in need. All four locations need volunteers to walk dogs, cuddle with kitties, clean cages, and work off-site adoption events -- whether you have time to give a few days a week or just once a month.
Pilots to the Rescue is looking to expand their network of licensed pilots to fly rescued shelter animals to new loving owners across the US (there are Philly flight missions looking for volunteers). Embarking on these rescue efforts saves pets from euthanasia and help dogs and cats find fur-ever homes.
The nonprofit organization Saved Me works to improve the lives of thousands of Philly’s homeless pets -- and they need your help. Volunteers can assist with fundraising activities, taking and posting pictures to adoption sites, and socializing with animals until their new fur-parents come along. Think of all those happy wags and purrs of appreciation! Orientation is held every Sunday at 11am (show up with a filled-out application).
Mentor underprivileged youth in a “Big” way
Volunteering as a “Big” with Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence means getting to bond with a kid who needs inspiration and guidance -- and making a huge difference in shaping his/her future. You’ll be matched with a “Little” to spend one-on-one quality time with on a regular basis, with opportunities to join group activities and explore the community together. It's kind of like that movie Role Models… except, hopefully, nothing like that movie Role Models.
Cheer on and encourage intellectually disabled athletes
Special Olympics Philadelphia helps children and adults with intellectual disabilities to achieve their personal bests -- in sports and in life -- with year-round training and athletic competitions. The half-century-old organization offers a myriad of opportunities for getting involved and building the community, from coaching your favorite sport or cheering at games to organizing fundraisers, and even recruiting athletes.
Help hospitalized kids thrive
Project Sunshine brings the fun of childhood to pediatric medical settings in Philly, which can often feel isolating; it’s just as empowering for the young patients as it is for the volunteers. Apply to get trained, and you’ll enrich the lives of kids with health conditions by leading them in creative, fun, and educational activities at the hospitals -- from arts and crafts to book clubs and interactive cooking lessons.
Bond over art to support those with dementia
ARTZ Philadelphia programs are designed to engage and connect with dementia patients to increase their quality of life through creative expression and art-based discussion. Get involved in one of their many upcoming events -- from artmaking with residents at care communities to leading conversations at regional art museums.
Be a reading coach for the city’s K-3 youth
Calling all bookworms! Share your love of the written word with Philadelphia’s youth by joining Philly Reading Coaches. The initiative pairs trained volunteers with young students, offering them early reading support and access to books. Even just an hour a week of one-on-one reading time can help kids’ reading comprehension, paving the way to becoming more confident and motivated readers.
Lead after-school enrichment classes
After School Activities Partnerships (ASAP Philly) needs volunteers to lead after-school enrichment programs (like Scrabble, drama, debate, chess) for the city’s youth in local schools, libraries, nonprofits, and community centers. Offering fun and sustainable extracurriculars helps keep kids out of trouble, helping them stay engaged long after the dismissal bell rings. Orientations are bi-monthly, and you’re welcome to volunteer as often or as little as you like.
Empower and inform others with nutrition education
Vetri Community Partnership leads an array of hands-on labs, after-school cooking classes, and educational programs that encourage people to lead healthy lives. By teaching cooking skills and nutrition lessons to the community, kids and adults are better equipped to make smarter decisions when they’re cooking, buying, and eating food. Many of these nonprofit programs are volunteer-taught, so you need only create a volunteer profile to participate.
Support AIDS efforts at a local thrift store
Philly AIDS Thrift is a secondhand store brimming with unique clothes, furniture, and other treasures, with proceeds benefiting local AIDS efforts. Open seven days a week, they’re seeking friendly volunteers at their Queen Village storefront to sort through donated items, greet and assist customers, update their infamous window displays, and meet some cool new people along the way.
Deliver meals to those battling illness
Sometimes healthy food is the best medicine. MANNA is a service that provides fresh, medically tailored meals and nutrition education to those living with life-threatening illnesses (at no cost to the recipients). The organization relies on volunteers to prepare, cook, package, and deliver the meals -- and you’ll feel nourished as well, knowing you’re improving the health of your neighbors in need.
Use your green thumb for good
Put your hands in the dirt! Join the Philadelphia Orchard Project in a range of orchard care activities like planting, weeding, and mulching (from March to November). You can also get pickin’ with the POPHarvest group, where volunteers gather fruits, nuts, and berries from sites around Philly and donate their harvest to those in need. Check their event schedule to register in advance.
Lead hikes and care for animals
Get outdoors and get involved with the nonprofit Briar Bush Nature Center, located directly on the northern fringe of Philly. As a volunteer, you’ll get the chance to lead hikes for school groups, care for the animals, plant new flora and pull exotic weeds, survey birds for researchers, and do other excellent outdoor stuff that benefits the center.
Help build a better Philadelphia (literally)
Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia is a great opportunity for those looking to help their community in a seriously hands-on way. Volunteers of all skill levels are needed to work on their construction and homebuilding repair sites -- but if hammering away isn’t your thing, lend a hand at a local Habitat ReStore, which sells used used goods, furniture, and other finds to support the charity.
Impact the lives of Philly’s homeless
The Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission organizes a myriad of service and outreach opportunities, all of which benefit Philly’s homeless and disadvantaged men, women, and children. Volunteers can sign up to serve meals at the facility, teach classes or Bible study at the Women and Children’s Ministry, or sort donations at the BeeHive Thrift Store. Check out their extensive job listing board to learn more about how to get involved individually or with a group of your friends.
Teach and help further adult education
The Center For Literacy offers a wide variety of literacy services for a diverse group of adults, including programs that focus on reading, writing, math, technology, and ESL. Volunteer CFL tutors are trained (in three orientation sessions) to teach various subjects to either English or non-English speaking students, changing their lives and preparing them for the work force, college, and life in general.
Support the LGBTQ community
The William Way Community Center provides an accepting, encouraging, and social environment for the LGBTQ community. The center offers a ton of helpful services and is frequently putting on events, so there’s no shortage of ways to get involved (and meet some excellent new people): Become a peer counselor, join the art gallery committee, offer marketing support, or share your unique talent as a “Gaycoupage” craft instructor.
Keep Philly’s parks clean and safe
Channel your inner Leslie Knope and offer your time to the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation department. As a volunteer, you can take on a day project like cleaning, weeding, planting, or doing seasonal maintenance; or, become a long-term volunteer with your local neighborhood Philadelphia Park Friends group where you can get more involved with fundraising, programing, and event committees. Also part of the department, the Farm Philly Community Garden Network is in charge of various urban farming projects around the city, like building orchards and community gardens.
Join the fight to end hunger
Philabundance feeds over 90,000 people each week -- and they’re looking for help in reducing food waste and delivering it to those in need. Individuals and groups can sign up to pack and sort donated food at their Hunger Relief Center in South Philly, work a “produce rescue” shift at the Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, or pick up donated food from local grocery stores to hand out to the hungry.
Support sexual violence survivors in crisis
Woman Organized Against Rape (WOAR) relies on committed and compassionate people to provide crucial support to survivors of sexual assault and abuse. WOAR’s direct service volunteer team runs their 24-hour crisis hotline and meets in-person with survivors at the Philadelphia Sexual Assault Response Center (PSARC). Note, though, that volunteers must complete 40 hours of in-depth training and agree to a one-year commitment -- so this isn't one to take lightly.
Clean up the city’s litter problem
Philly, we love you, but you unfortunately have a litter problem -- you know it, we know it, and Not in Philly, a network of over 1,200 volunteers committed to cleaning their blocks once a week, knows it. The operation has raised money to supply many participants with “trash grabbers” (but they still need more funding as they grow, so donate here!). And don’t forget to print out flyers as a way spread the word and encourage your neighbors to join in taking out the trash.
Advocate for clean water and clean air
Join PennEnvironment’s ongoing effort to protect and stand up for Pennsylvania's natural beauty -- from its waterways to its air, forests, and every element in-between. Whether you can volunteer regularly or sporadically throughout the year, the organization welcomes you to aid with research, media events, collecting signatures, and all the environmental conservations efforts you’re passionate about.
Be a voice (and ear) for women’s rights
The Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center in the state that’s devoted to the rights of women and girls -- meaning, they fight hard for equal access to reproductive healthcare, economic security, and improved response to gender-related violence. Make a difference as a volunteer WLP telephone counselor -- you’ll provide legal information and extensive referrals to concerned (mostly low-income female) callers.
Help the refugee and immigrant community
HIAS Pennsylvania offers support and services to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers from all over who are in the process of integrating into American society. As a volunteer, you can lend a helping hand by teaching English, assisting a refugee in getting acclimated, supporting legal work, or donating today to help them continue their efforts.
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Brooke Sager is a contributing writer for Thrillist who has lofty goals to become a full-time volunteer cat cuddler in Philly. Follow her on on Instagram and Twitter.