A Day of Caring: Volunteering in New York City with New York Cares

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Most people would be forgiven for assuming that volunteering while travelling means a relatively long-term time commitment, or that you need to pay to volunteer. Well, think again! I spent a day volunteering in New York City, for a few hours at a time with four different organisations. How? New York Cares has partnered with 1,350 not-for-profits, public schools, and city agencies to offer residents and visitors free, short-term volunteering in New York City. Here is my day of caring to show you just how easy it is!

9.30-12 am: Pantry Preparation at Church of the Village

Volunteering in New York with New York Cares pantry prep www.grassrootsnomad.com

Each Tuesday, Church of the Village in the West Village provides groceries for those in need who have access to a kitchen, as well as food bags for those living on the streets. Volunteers are divided into two shifts, with the first helping receive food deliveries and preparing the food, and the second shift serving the clients directly.

The food is donated from food banks, City Harvest, and even generous individuals, and it is then sorted and divided up into portions for the clients. I worked alongside other foreigners, locals, students and retirees as we unpacked boxes of groceries and vegetables. During my shift, we unpacked and sorted boxes of salad dressing, cereal, pasta, rice, juice, milk, vegetables, and salad… including more broccoli than I’ve ever seen before!

It was hard but rewarding work that had a strong community feel. Many of the volunteers come each week and we were all able to talk as we worked. While the number of clients served differs week to week, my particular shift served grocery bags to 208 clients – how incredible is that?!

1-2pm: Resume Preparation with the Center for Employment Opportunities

Volunteering in New York with New York Cares resume prep www.grassrootsnomad.com

The Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO), offers employment services and support for people who have been recently incarcerated or with criminal records. Over the last decade, they have helped 17,000 people find full-time employment.

I signed up to spend an hour doing one-on-one resume preparation, however, volunteering is all about flexibility! My partner already had a resume prepared so we spent an hour on interview practice instead. We went through previous interviews he had been to, noting down questions that had been asked and tips for making sure your answers mention key phrases and words.

This is a great volunteering activity for anyone to help with we have all gone through the job application process and know what employers are looking out for. If you work in the Financial District, you can even do it over your lunch break!

3.30-4.30pm: Summer Science with the Educational Alliance After School Program

Volunteering in New York with New York Cares www.grassrootsnomad.com

I have to admit that this was the volunteering activity that I was the most nervous about. I haven’t studied science since school and it definitely wasn’t a subject I was particularly good at or enjoyed!

Luckily, the kids were great and the science project was easy to follow. We each were partnered with a student and then we worked together to make catapults out of popsicle sticks, rubber bands, and a spoon. We talked together about which type of catapult we thought would launch the furthest and why and then went into the hall to try them out!

It was great fun watching the kids get excited about science and testing their hypotheses. I was disappointed when it came to an end, especially when my partner said he was excited to see me again next week but I would have left NYC by then!

This is a fun activity, but I was a bit put off by the fact that the organisation let people volunteer with the kids without a police check or clearance (which I already have from my time volunteering at a rescue shelter in Guatemala City). These sorts of checks and requirements are the responsibility of the individual organisations rather than New York Cares, but I feel that this is an area that could definitely be improved.

6-7.30pm: Train with Achilles International

Volunteering in New York with New York Careswww.grassrootsnomad.com

Achilles International is a global organisation that meets in gyms, parks and tracks all over the world. I met up with the NYC Chapter in Central Park and was amazed and how strong their community is. It was by far my favourite activity of the day and I encourage everyone to check out their local chapter.

Able-bodied volunteers and disabled runners are matched together based on their speed and ability. Just because the runners may be disabled doesn’t mean that they aren’t fast! A group of runners even participated at the last NYC marathon!

My sister and I were matched up with Barbara, a blind lady who has been part of the Achilles community for some time. As it was so hot, we decided that we would walk around the Reservoir rather than running around and we had the best time! We had similar interests (mainly food), and we chatted about restaurants and travel while we walked.

Everyone we met at this event was friendly and welcoming. If you are only visiting NYC for a short time, volunteering with Achilles will give you a connection with a local that you would otherwise miss out on. Do you live in NYC? I guarantee that if you join these guys once that you will be back again the next week!

Great, I’ve convinced you! What next?

Signing up with New York Cares is an easy process. You fill out their application form online and then attend one of their induction sessions. If you are only visiting NYC for a short time, you are able to complete this easily online. Next, you just check out the hundreds of volunteering opportunities available and register for the event that matches your skills, interests, and schedule. Too easy!

Are you interested in reading more real-life volunteer stories? Check out the Grassroots Nomad monthly ethical volunteering series for more!

Whether you are visiting New York City or live in the Big Apple you can volunteer with New York Cares. Read at www.grassrootsnomad.com

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36 Comments
thetravelpockets

If I lived in NY, this is something that would definitely interest me. The Summer Science sounds like a fun volunteer program. I was never an A+ student when it came to Science, but I sure did love it 🙂

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Grassroots Nomad

Haha, I had the same worry! Plus the US uses a different measuring system to us in Oz so I was worried I would be a hindrance more than a help! Luckily, we had a great time together learning about catapults – I wish we had fun activities like that when I was in school!

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everyfootstepanadventure

This sounds like an amazing experience! I love how there’s a variety of programs with different focuses!

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Grassroots Nomad

There really is something for everyone with New York Cares. They have everything from tree planting to playing board games at retirement homes – anything you feel like doing! 🙂

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Eric

Volunteering is a great way to see a different side of a community/city. I haven’t been to NYC yet, but this seems like you’ll definitely get a unique view of the city.

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Grassroots Nomad

Hey Eric, thanks for commenting. It was such a great way to visit different parts of the city that I would never have been to otherwise. And by chatting with locals I was given so many different recommendations of other things to do and see while I was visiting. I hope you get to visit NYC soon and have the chance to try this!

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Wandering JM

Very interesting. It sounda exciting and feels great to be part of something like this. I wanna look for a group who does it near my hometown. Thanks.

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Grassroots Nomad

I’m so glad you liked it! I’ve heard that this concept has been expanded to some other cities around the world but I’m not sure where. I just moved to Vancouver and I would love to start something like this here! I hope you are able to find something similar near where you live 🙂

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PaigeBrown

You seriously just inspire me! Thank you so much for constantly showing me how to make more from travels – no matter where I go! Cheers!

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Grassroots Nomad

Awww thanks so much Paige!!! This is the whole reason I started Grassroots Nomad – not only to hopefully inspire others, but also to push myself to get exploring and to really see what a city has to offer. I would never spend so much time researching if I didn’t have this site, so I’m really lucky to have found so many incredible things to do 🙂

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Anna

Laura, this is uncanny! I have just moved to another city for a year and my first idea to meet new people and do something with my time after work was to volunteer – that’s how I found out about Care Amsterdam 🙂 I love the flexibility and the fact that you can do so many different things. So far I was just looking online, but after reading about your experiences, I will definitely try it in person!

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Grassroots Nomad

That is so great Anna! I wonder if it is a similar model to that of New York Cares.. I’ve heard that a lot of other cities are adopting a similar approach. I would love to hear more about Care Amsterdam if you decide to check it out!

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Anna

Oh, it’s Amsterdam Cares, of course, I misstyped. And it sounds like exactly the smae model, except here there’s a language barrier so there are certain jobs which one cannot do without speaking Dutch. But there’s plenty for English-speakers as well! I’ll get back to you if I do this.

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Grassroots Nomad

It sounds so interesting – fingers crossed you are able to find something fun! 🙂

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Grassroots Nomad

Hey Kassie – it is so great! You can register and do the orientation online before you arrive so that you are all set to go. Then you just log into their system and see what is available when you are free. You can even search opportunities by subway line to cut down on transport time!

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cosmosmariners

I love this idea! While it’s always great when you have the time commitment for a long term project, there are always ways to give back even in a short amount of time. I wish my hometown did something like this!

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Shayan Naveed (@ShayanBkk)

I’ve always wanted to do some volunteer work. It was easier when I was in school because 1. we were required to do so and 2. had time.

Now between a job, blog, travels, there is hardly any time. This may be the answer, if I’m ever in NY.

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Grassroots Nomad

Hey Shayan, I wish more schools made it a requirement. Did you study in the US? It seems like it is quite common to have volunteer work as a requirement there, but for us in Australia it was all optional. I agree that it is hard to find time to volunteer when you are juggling so many different things, especially when most places I’ve found always require you to commit to such long time periods. As someone who is never in one place for long, this really reduces my volunteering opportunities!

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Samantha | There She Goes Again

This sounds like such an amazing day! I won’t be too far from NYC, so this definitely looks like something I’d look into. The only one I’m iffy about is working with kids for the same reasons you listed. I’m also curious as to how the program is set-up– is it the same person running the program and they invite volunteers for special activities or is it a constant stream of different volunteers?

The last one might be my favorite though! How awesome would it be to do something active (for me–it’d probably just be walking haha) and get to chat with someone about said city?!

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Grassroots Nomad

Hey Samantha. Yeah, the volunteering with kids seemed iffy to me. After my time in Guatemala City I really see, even more, how important it is to have security checks in place and require a longer time commitment. As far as I know, these projects vary. The guy who was leading it had been doing it for years, but a lot of the other volunteers were first timers so I think the volunteers change very quickly. You should really check out Achilles when you are in NYC – I absolutely loved it and had the best time chatting. I just moved to Vancouver over the weekend so I’m going to see if they have a branch here as well. Let me know how you get on if you do try any of these activities!! 🙂

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danyroko

That`s just awesome! I think it would be incredible if more people would volunteer (locals included). I volunteer with red cred whenever I am and it`s my heart organisation.
I love love love your post for so many reason, but especially for showing it can be fun too!
Keep spreading the positive vibe!

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Grassroots Nomad

Thanks so much for your kind words!! What sort of volunteer work do you normally do? Is it mainly in your home town or while you are travelling?

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Hung Thai [Up Up and a Bear]

Laura, I really admire how dedicated you are to making a difference wherever you go. I was just in New York last week and, while I did note the strange mix of riches and poverty there, I did not think of volunteering at all. I’m going to have to look more into volunteering opportunities for my upcoming trips. Thanks for the inspiration.

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Grassroots Nomad

Thank you!! The massive divide between rich and poor really stood out to me in NYC – much more so than many other cities I have visited.

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Hung Thai [Up Up and a Bear]

Laura, I really admire the selfless attitude you have towards traveling. I was just in New York and, while I did note the strange mix of riches and poverty there, I did not think about volunteering. I’ll have to be make it a point to look into volunteering opportunities for my upcoming trips.

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abritandasoutherner

What an amazing and rewarding experience! NYC is certainly not the first place you would think about visiting to volunteer but it’s for such a good cause and it would be nice to see more people get involved in such projects around the country! Thanks for introducing us to this concept!

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Amandas_Wanderlust

What a fantastic idea. I didn’t realise you could do these short taster sessions of volunteering with different organisations. Helping with resume prep is such a good idea. But they all sound like fun.

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theluvaviatrix

Wow, how great! I’m currently on bed rest so I feel so useless. You have me pumped up to get involved with something great once I’m up and at ’em again. I love NYC, there’s so many incredible things going on.

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TalesOfABackpacker (@clairesturz)

Sometimes we forget about volunteering in our own communities, this is a great reminder that there are fantastic projects in our own backyard where we can make a difference too! And especially with just a few hours volunteering too!

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Grassroots Nomad

Thanks Claire – I agree. People are always thinking of overseas volunteering positions but there is so much valuable work that you are able to do in your hometown.

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