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Volunteering: Memories to Last a Lifetime and a Lifetime Ever-Changed

Hallie Witwer
It was about a year ago that I started feeling like I was missing that little extra something in my life. My job was going well enough, and I had a very fulfilling social and family life, but I felt that there was a deeper layer to the onion of life that I hadn’t even begun to cut into yet. What was even more frustrating was that I couldn’t identify just what it was that was missing. Then a single experience opened up my eyes to a world that I hadn’t really given much thought to before.

Once I had my first taste of volunteering, it was like everything that was missing that I couldn’t identify suddenly became crystal clear. I’m lucky in the fact that my full-time job opens doors to explore such opportunities by allowing its employees to take days here and there to go fulfill a project within the city of Cleveland (a city that is teeming with opportunities to give back).

Recently I worked with “RePlay for Kids” where I altered toys so kids with disabilities could get the most benefit from them. These little windows into the volunteer community eventually made me look for a long-term commitment and now I have orientation with the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland in just a few short weeks. I truly could not be more excited to get started with them. Some people travel to distant countries for adventure and some people jump out of airplanes. Something deep inside me, though, is telling me that working with these kids who may not exactly have had an easy life so far is my own destined adventure. And not only am I o.k. with that, I absolutely cannot wait. So here are a few highlights of non-profits and charitable organizations around Ohio that you might want to look into, and even get involved with. I’m telling you, if you change a life…it WILL change yours. I assure you, your heart and soul will thank you later:

Cincinnati

We’ll start with the fantastic city of Cincinnati. Also overflowing with organizations that need your help, it was hard to narrow it down to just a few. One that I really feel is worth mentioning though, is UCP (United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cincinnati). Their overall vision is to help create a society where people with disabilities have the same opportunities to live, learn, work, and play as people without disabilities. Certainly sounds like a cause worthy of support to me. Volunteer opportunities are typically reserved for those 18 and over, though there are limited positions for teens, as well. While some opportunities do require a specific schedule, most openings are flexible. Go ahead and visit United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cincinnati Volunteers for more information. Research is the first step to making that difference!

A different way to get involved in the Cincinnati area is through Lighthouse Youth Services. Focusing on children and families, the organization offers sanctuary for homeless and abused youth. There are over 550 children in Lighthouse residential care, but their reach goes even farther. Each day the organization’s staff members serve over 2,000 children and families through its community-based services. If you were looking to volunteer for an organization that touches a large number of lives, this is the place to go. They are always seeking volunteers who want to directly engage with community members and terms of service can be either short-term or long-term. There’s something for everyone so check out Lighthouse Youth Services Volunteer Information to find that perfectly matched opportunity for you.

Columbus

Moving onward and geographically upward, I have to mention some great places in our state’s capital. Columbus is ever growing and ever-changing. With as much diversity as it has, there are countless different types of non-profits and the like that you can dip your feet into! LifeCare Alliance provides services that assist older and medically challenged community members. These services include (but are not limited to) home meal delivery and home making assistance. The overall goal is to help seniors remain in their own homes with dignity. Volunteers can help distribute fresh fruits and veggies to seniors in need or even assist with the organization’s senior pet care program. Get the full scoop on the different options by going to LifeCare Alliance Volunteer Opportunities . When it comes to helping seniors, you definitely get even more than you give. Who else can tell you about battling in Vietnam and what it was like when cheeseburgers cost 20 cents?

Another great Columbus organization is Columbus Gives Back. This organization was founded by Columbus professionals specifically for Columbus professionals. It schedules events on evenings and weeknights in order to accommodate working individuals with full-time jobs. With a wide range of events offered, it’s a great way to give back and meet new (and obviously super cool) people. From prepping food for the hungry to building houses for the homeless, it’s a great way to interact and engage directly with the great charitable community that Columbus has to offer. Head over to Columbus Gives Back: Get Involved to see what needs Columbus Gives Back has right now. Who knows, maybe you could be their next Volunteer of the Month!

Cleveland

I’m going to finish out with my own stomping grounds- Cleveland, Ohio. As I mentioned in the opening of the article, I spent some time personally with RePlay for Kids, which modifies toys so that kids with disabilities can use them with ease. The toys are then distributed to kids that need them at no cost to the families or non-profit organizations that would use them. RePlay notes that kids learn through play and interaction so having toys that they can use despite not having full use of their faculties is extremely important. When I did work for them, the leaders from the organization were extremely helpful, patient, and grateful and before long I was using a soldering gun and electric drill like no one’s business! When I finished my toys I was rewarded with a huge feeling of accomplishment and pride knowing that before long those very toys would be helping a kid in need. There are several ways to get involved with the organization, so visit Volunteer Now With RePlay For Kids to find out what the right fit for you is.

Another organization that I’ve dipped my own two feet into is the Cleveland Foodbank. They provide the majority of food used in Cleveland area shelters, food pantries, childcare centers, and group homes. I cannot say enough just how vital to the Cleveland community this organization is. Without volunteers there is no way the food bank could maintain the wide reach it needs to. If you live in northeastern Ohio, consider giving even a weekend or afternoon to at least experience how you can help out, and maybe even start lending a hand once a month or once a week. I remember after making and bagging approximately 80-100 sandwiches how happy I felt knowing that that many hungry people would be less hungry, at least for a little bit after eating the meal I helped provide. Hunger is such an immense issue in our country, and donations and volunteer time are the best way to begin combating it on an individual level. Fight Cleveland Hunger can get you started on your own fight against hunger in the greater Cleveland area.
Myself and fellow RePlay Kids volunteer Solanda Gavilanes putting together toys at the volunteer workshop (Witwer 2013)
These are just a few of the countless opportunities to give back in the State of Ohio. I used to tell myself that I’d get involved once I was more settled down, or once I had more money. I was always making excuses of why right now just wasn’t the right time. The reality of it though, is that it is always the right time for a good deed. Besides, why deprive yourself of awesome life experiences that make you feel fantastic? I’m certainly not saying that kicking it with friends, work, and travel aren’t important parts of life, but I think that there’s another layer to everyday living that we sometimes forget to access, and that’s reaching outside our comfort zones and leaving a positive mark on our fellow human-beings. We all have a story, and that includes those who have ended up in a situation that may have left them disabled, homeless, or hungry. We all need to spend less time judging and more time reaching out and improving our neighbor’s struggles. Even if we don’t completely solve the problem, just providing a little bit of comfort for even a moment can make such a difference in someone’s life. Make that extra effort to dig deeper into the act of giving and I so, so promise you that it will be worth it. Treat yourself to some lifelong memories; you definitely won’t regret it.