With their mission to engage the people of Colorado to be active stewards of natural resources, VOC is only one example of local volunteer opportunities that can be good for both heart and soul. In fact, Colorado is rife with volunteer projects that can simultaneously help you get or stay fit and give back to your community.
Take for instance the National Sports Center for the Disabled, which has headquarters in Winter Park and Denver, and uses about 1,000 volunteers per year.
“Our ski program alone, from November through April, we need about 700 volunteers just to make the program function,” says Katie Gibson, the organization’s volunteer services supervisor.
“There’s something special about sharing what you love with someone else and seeing their face when they’re able to link a turn, or turn a horse on their own,” says Gibson. “That’s a big part of why we attract so many volunteers. They’re doing something active and watching another person learn and grow.”
Active is right: If you’ve experienced the exertion of skiing, imagine how much it takes to tether a disabled adult on an assist ski. Such an assignment would only be given to a volunteer with sufficient expertise, of course, and though all the center’s winter volunteers receive lessons to improve their own skills and impart teaching techniques, there are positions for skiers of all levels.
For Volunteers of America‘s winter volunteers, all that’s required is a shovel and a penchant for physical labor. Through their Snow Buddies program, VOA matches about 300 local seniors with a buddy who will shovel their snow.
“My buddy’s name is Ann, and every time it snows, within 24 hours I go over and shovel her walk, shovel her steps and make sure her car is cleaned off,” says Jordan Kellerman, communications specialist for VOA’s Colorado branch and Snow Buddy participant. She’s become friends with Ann, who lives only blocks away and will not have to worry about slips and falls in snowy weather — or about getting fined for not shoveling.
“The added benefit for me was actually that I didn’t have to drive to the gym afterward, because I’d just shoveled ton of snow,” says Kellerman. (The work is seasonal — Snow Buddies is an extension of a larger landscape-help program that, among other chores, rakes leaves in the fall.) VOA also offers fitness classes for seniors, which often require volunteer help.
Another great resource is Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which can claim 300,000 volunteer hours in 2013 for tasks like trail maintenance, planting and guiding hikes. Though winter is their slow season for volunteers, summer opportunities exist across the state as well as closer to town, in parks like Roxborough, Chatfield and Cherry Creek.
The opportunities for physically active volunteer work in Colorado are plentiful, says Shari Tishman, director of engagement for VolunteerMatch, which is a nationwide, online volunteer-engagement network.
“Folks in Colorado tend to be more active,” says Tishman. “They like to get out there, out into nature, and we see tons of opportunities for that.”
In fact, out of almost 30 categories, 40 percent of Coloradans matched with volunteer opportunities on the site chose causes in the three most active categories: environment, health and medicine, or sports and recreation.
Trail maintenance and clean-ups are great one-day options, says Tishman, but be prepared to find that many active opportunities will require a longer-term commitment due to training, background checks and other requirements.
There’s nothing wrong with volunteering in a way that is good for your own health, she says.
“Everyone goes to volunteer because they care, but it’s OK to find benefits for yourself as well,” Tishman says. “Bottom line, you’re out there making a difference in the world.”
Plus, you may be doing an activity that you love and would be doing anyway. Such is often the case with Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado.
“A lot of our volunteers end up signing up for a project because they’ve seen us when they’re out recreating themselves, either mountain biking or hiking,” says VOC’s Martinez.
The organization’s fourteener projects are popular, almost always garnering volunteer wait lists, but VOC’s volunteers also plant urban gardens, preserve habitats, and restore areas affected by fires and floods.
Active volunteering is an experience that sticks with you, says Martinez, citing one of his favorite projects: building a trail in Washington Park with about 100 volunteers.
“Literally thousands of people every weekend will utilize that part of the trail and the park,” he says. “(The volunteers) all got a great workout, but that gives them so much more, because they can also all go back to see and admire the work they did.”
Active volunteer resources
- Colorado Parks and Wildlife: cpw.state.co.us/aboutus/Pages/Volunteer.aspx, 303-291-7299
- National Sports Center for the Disabled: nscd.org, 303-316.1546
- Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado: voc.org, 303-715-1010
- Volunteers of America: voa.org, 800-899-0089
- VolunteerMatch: volunteermatch.org