Do good, feel good

Volunteering takes only your time. It can give back much more

October 29, 2005|By SUN REPORTER

Ahhh, the weekend. You-time. A chance to play, party and pamper yourself. And what better way to spend it than ...

Mopping the floor at an animal shelter?

Picking up trash at a city park?

Packaging canned goods in a cold warehouse?

As thousands of Baltimore-area residents see it, weekends weren't made for Michelob, for sleeping, shopping or watching TV; instead they are a time to make the world a better place in some small way.

Every weekend, they're out there - knee-deep as they plant grasses in the Chesapeake Bay, up to their elbows as they wash dishes at a homeless shelter, atop roofs as they hammer shingles on a new Habitat for Humanity house.

But look closely and you can see that, altruistic as they are, they're also having a good time.

Weekend volunteering - selfless as it is - is also a way to make new friends, bring your family closer together, teach children values, pursue your interests, expand your horizons and maybe even get a date.

And with a bit of planning, you, too, can be do-gooding in no time. It's just a matter of making the time.

"Between life and your job and all your responsibilities you tend to get too wrapped up in yourself," said Stephanie Inglis, 31, a computer company project manager who attended a recent orientation session held by Volunteer Central, an agency that matches volunteers with organizations that need them.

While Inglis had signed up as a volunteer before, she planned to follow through this time - moved in part by scenes of devastation from Hurricane Katrina.

Jenny Hardesty, 34, came to the meeting in search of a cause that would make her weekends, and her life, more fulfilling.

"I'm single. I don't have any kids or any obligations, and I like the idea of making a difference to somebody, being part of somebody's life."

Two weeks later, Hardesty was signed up to be a big sister.

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Organizations like the Maryland Food Bank and the Loading Dock, a recycled home goods store, regularly need volunteers on Saturdays, and require little in the way of training or background checks.

"If you're going to be working with kids, organizations want to make sure you're committed to it and don't have a criminal background, whereas if you're moving crates around, there's not so much a need for that," said Kate Scherr of Volunteer Central, which holds an orientation session the first Tuesday of each month.

While it prefers volunteers to register in advance, the Maryland Food Bank doesn't turn anyone away, said volunteer coordinator Barbara Craig. Still, she said, "If we have 55 scheduled and 100 show up, which happened a few weeks ago, it just makes it hard for everybody to have a good experience."

The food bank has drop-in hours on the third Wednesday of every month from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Otherwise, it prefers volunteers to register.

Normally, the food bank packages food for the needy on the second Saturday of every month, but because of the hurricane and the approaching holiday season, it will be holding sessions Nov. 5, 12 and 19, Craig said.

"It's a little easier getting volunteers right now," said Bill Ewing, the food bank's executive director. "If you put the word `Katrina' in there, people will show up. ... What it will be like a month from now, nobody knows."

Dogs' best friends

Animal shelters are constantly in need of weekend volunteers. The Humane Society of Baltimore County, in Reisterstown, the Maryland SPCA, at 3300 Falls Road, and the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS) all make use of volunteers, and need more.

"You fill out our volunteer application, and we do an interview," said Jennifer Mead, BARCS director of animal welfare operations. "Then they get a tour and pick a start date. They can start the next day if they want."

BARCS volunteers must be at least 18 and willing to commit to coming once every few weeks for at least six months.

The former city-run shelter became a nonprofit agency this year. It's relying heavily on volunteers for tomorrow's "BARCStoberfest," a daylong festival at Patterson Park aimed at getting rescued cats and dogs adopted.

At the shelter, volunteers groom and play with animals, help clean the facility and assist in the adoption process. On Sundays when the Ravens are playing at home, volunteers put bandanas that say "Adopt Me" on the shelter's dogs and parade them past tailgaters before the game.

As it turns out, many of BARCS' volunteers end up adopting pets.

"A lot of them, when they start, make a point of saying they're not planning to adopt," said Mead. "I warn them that they will probably change their minds."

A social scene

For some, volunteering has resulted in finding more than the dog of their dreams.

"We've had several success stories, including marriages," said Tori Shu, a member of Single Volunteers of Baltimore and Annapolis, whose 1,000 members are required not to be in a committed relationship.

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