Monday, June 28, 2010

Volunteer experiences in DC

Over the past few months, I have signed up with Greater DC Cares to volunteer with a few local organizations. For those unfamiliar with this organization, GDCC serves as a middleman to sign up volunteers with non-profits across the area. The best parts about signing up with GDCC are that you can help out with different non-profits while only signing up with one organization, and that there are no long-term commitments (you sign up for 1 project at a time, and each project is only about 2-3 hours). It also means, though, that you're not guaranteed a spot on the project each week and you won't necessarily get to work with the same people consistently. Their system works for me though - I like variety. I thought I would use this post to recount some of my experiences with GDCC, for the information of anyone who's interested in volunteering with them, or for anyone else who just wants to hear about it.

One project that I helped with this weekend, that I have mentioned before on this blog, is a community garden group at the Parkview Rec Center in DC. Mostly the work has involved pulling up weeds. I have to admit it is disheartening to spend an hour pulling up weeds one week, only to come back another time to see that they have multiplied. But that aside, I am really impressed so far at how well the garden is growing there. The people that work on the project are also pretty cool and enthusiastic about urban gardening. My favorite part is when the kids at the rec center come by to help us plant.

Earlier this week, I also helped out with Books For Prisons, which sends books to prisoners who have written in to request books. Some people ask for any kind of book, fiction or non-fiction, others have a particular book in mind which they ask for.  Many of the letters I opened were from people who said they had no money or no one to send them anything, and the project staff told us that they especially try to fulfill book requests from under-served areas. For two hours, I opened letters from prisoners, looked through stacks of donated books for books that at least came close to their requests, and wrapped the books up in brown paper to send. The man who worked there said, "If there was ever any lesson that might teach someone to stay out of prison, this would be it." I can believe it. Prisoners are only allowed to request 2-3 books every few months. Often the letters I opened were weeks or months old, which shows how long it takes for requests to go through "the system." Some of the requests for specific authors or types of books I was unable to fulfill simply because those kinds of books hadn't been donated. I normally don't stop to think about how life would be if I had all the time in the world but I could only receive two books, picked somewhat at random from a donations bin, every six months. But what would it be like?

Through GDCC, I've also worked on a soup kitchen project (Loaves and Fishes) which is based at a church in DC, and a furniture donations non-profit (A Wider Circle) based in Silver Spring. If anyone reading this would like to hear more about those projects, feel free to leave me a comment and I can tell you about it here or in a future post.

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