AARP Eye Center
Volunteering on the Gulf Coast
By John Briley, July 7, 2010 09:42 AM
Photo credit: 2010 by Effer Lecebe/ artist Peacekeeper
If you're like most AARP members, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has left you saddened, sympathetic (to Gulf Coast residents and wildlife) and probably a little bit frustrated that we, as a country, haven't yet solved this colossal environmental disaster.
Maybe you even want to head to the region to help clean up the coast and/or aid residents in rebuilding their lives.
But unless you have specific oil-spill response skills or are certified to handle wildlife, there may not yet be a volunteer position for you in the Gulf Coast region. In fact, the region has been so inundated with people who want to help that the government-run Corporation for National and Community Service (NCS) issued a letter this week stating, in part:
"The complex nature of oil cleanup, coupled with health and safety concerns, restricts the role of volunteers. [Officials have] specified that volunteers or unpaid individuals are not allowed to perform hands-on hazardous waste remediation." The NCS adds that the effects of the spill will be felt for years and that it will, at some unspecified point, have ample opportunities for volunteers to help.
So what now? Does this mean you can shelve that volunteering spirit and kick up your feet until the NCS comes up with a role for you?
Not if we can help it. A better tack would be to channel your service energy to one of the many relief efforts ongoing in the U.S. and around the world today.
If you want to volunteer domestically - for example, to help some of the many Americans suffering from hunger, poverty, abuse or lack of education - you can search AARP's Create the Good for opportunities. You can also find toolkits there for organizing volunteer projects.
The NCS Web site also has opportunities matched to your location and interests ( http://www.volunteeringinamerica.gov/). The American Red Cross has a similar section on its site. If you have the time and inclination, you can head to Haiti, where children, families and entire communities still need an enormous amount of help to continue rebuilding after the January earthquake. A colleague of ours here recently did just that through the a faith-based group and had an extraordinarily rewarding experience working with Haitian children in an earthquake-affected orphanage. There are millions of people outside of the headlines, in the US and elsewhere, who could benefit from your compassion, time and energy.
The message: The Gulf Coast is hurting big time, but so are numerous other areas and people around the world, some of them right under our noses. So keep your desire to help alive and apply it wherever you can for now. Your effort will make our world a better place.