o you like to visit other places, see and do other things, but maybe, once there, relaxing just isn’t your “thing?”
Why not try a volunteer vacation – take a week or two and join a group working on a worthwhile project.
Costs can vary from $350 and up, depending on location.
Most times, meals and accommodations – sometimes communal such as bunkhouses and church rooms – are provided and the minimal costs will cover food expenses and transportation.
Here are some experiences I had with volunteer vacations:
Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota is the second poorest county in the United States. The Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church sponsors a multi-denominational Christian Outreach program called The Tree of Life Ministry (TOLM).
Volunteers of 80 or so work in small groups to make repairs to reservation homes, organize the thrift shop or work in the sewing room.
My Centre County group of four joined another Pennsylvania group of 15 for a four-day work week on the Lakota and Dakota Sioux Indian reservation that comprises the whole of Todd County.
The TOLM provides several homes for volunteer housing. Full kitchen facilities allow groups to prepare and cook their own meals. Everyone takes a turn helping.
On Day 1, the group meets with a project manager to gather supplies needed for the week. Our project was to put four windows in a very, very small ranch home housing a husband, wife and their five boys.
I will never forget the sight of the youngest boy peering out a window covered only with a sheet of Plexiglas. How did they endure the harsh Dakota winters?
During the week, we added the new windows, cleaned the backyard of rubbish and created a patio block entrance to the house.
This outreach is cross-cultural. During work projects, the families are encouraged to help and learn alongside the volunteers.
In our case, the older boys helped rake the yard and hammer nails.
“Removing ignorance removes fear and opens the door to friendship,” according to the TOLM website.
Education also is cross-cultural. Every night we learned something about Sioux culture: dance, music, crafts and storytelling plus speaker presentations of present-day Native American hurdles.
This particular outreach program gives the volunteers a mid-week break to see the countryside. We drove through the Badlands to visit Mt. Rushmore.
My group of seven energetic people from different areas of eastern and central Pennsylvania gathered in Harrisburg to travel together as volunteers to work on a sustainable working farm in Massachusetts – Overlook Farms, of Heifer International.
Heifer International is a non-profit organization that provides livestock and training to rural communities around the world. There, amidst crowing roosters, bleating goats and baaing lambs, is a teaching and training facility that appreciates volunteer labor for the upkeep of their facilities.
Overlook Farms supports the organization’s efforts to alleviate hunger, poverty and environmental concerns through a variety of methods such as field trips and multi-day educational programs.
The 270-acre property contains organic gardens, pasture, woodlands and more than 20 kinds of livestock – mostly goats and chickens, but also heifers, sheep, rabbits, llamas and even a camel.
The property once was a holding and shipping facility for animals to be sent overseas. However, due to costs and paperwork, it is more feasible to purchase animals in countries where they will be used. So, now, this is an educational property, welcoming more than 20,000 visitors a year who learn ways to alleviate world hunger and poverty.
At Overlook Farms, my group of five women and two men painted a cattle loafing shed greed, started painting red a newly constructed two-story barn that will provide additional educational space, prepared foundation for and leveled cement in the floor of the new Kenya House, repaired and stained a wooden wishing well, lag-bolted wooden vertical barn beams to steel plates and patched a tile roof.
“I so enjoyed this outreach experience,” one group member said. “I liked painting the wishing well. Along with the hard work, we had a lot of fun!”
I accompanied a group from Williamsport for a Volunteers in Mission (VIM) trip to the state of Indiana. Seventeen of us drove 11 hours to Hammond, Indiana. We were housed in a six-bedroom, ranch house parsonage that LARRI – the Lakeshore Area Regional Recovery of Indiana – leased for three years for volunteer use during the cleanup of Hurricane Ike.
On the first day, we got our assignments. I signed up to sand drywall in a house in Gary, Indiana. The homeowner was a 64-year-old great-grandmother who was living on disability.
Her basement, with a bedroom and bathroom, was flooded up to the third step. A previous group had installed the drywall and mud, but we had to sand the dried mud and re-mud any rough spots.
Another day was used to work on the parsonage where we were staying. The many-roomed basement needed its moldy drywall removed and replaced.
Since that required going up a split-landing set of stairs and then a long walk to the curb, we set up a “chain gang.” Some carried drywall to the steps’ landing, some heaved it over the stair railing and others carried to the curb.
On the last day, we prepared a meal for all the homeowners, LARRI staff and church members – about 50 people. Our “chef” prepared au gratin potatoes and ham; carrots and green beans.
The church ladies donated homemade Hungarian sausage and homemade noodles and the dessert.
As you can assume, you work hard during a volunteer vacation.
And, as with all volunteer endeavors, remember you might be out of your element. Be prepared to adjust to whatever the situation is and, remember, you are working to uplift the spirit of others.
The volunteer vacation experience includes:
- Co-workers who are good company and hard workers;
Courteous and patient staff
- The settings – beautiful windswept plains, rolling-hill countrysides, quiet suburbs
And all of this adds up to an experience that is priceless.