Giving Back: A Guide to Volunteering in DC

Photo courtesy of

‘Here’s Art again…’
courtesy of ‘IndyDina with Mr. Wonderful’

Some of us do it because we have to. Some of us do it because our friends do. Some of us do it because it’s how we were raised. And some of us just don’t do it – but we should. Giving back. It’s what makes the world go round and what helps those less fortunate than our selves have a chance at a better life. It’s about taking a few hours of your free time to help feed the hungry, clean your local park, rescue abandoned animals, rake the yard for your elderly neighbor or even help a young child learn and improve their chances at a brighter future. It doesn’t take much, but it goes a long, long way. For you business types, this is what we call a solid ROI for your time.

In today’s article, I’m going to focus on a wrap-up of volunteer organizations in the DC metro area and the people, animals or places that they benefit. Not an exhaustive listing by any means, but a combination of do-gooder motivation with some tips on how to get started. With a little help from you, we hope to continue this piece as a showcase of important volunteer events throughout the city on an ongoing basis. So let’s start with a simple question: What do you care about most?

Helping the Needy
The ability to put a little warm food in your belly and climb into a safe bed at night is something most of us take for granted, yet some in our area can only dream of. Tom is a big fan of helping the hungry and it’s definitely gratifying work. He recommends the well known non-profit Bread for the City, which is a great choice, especially since it received funding cuts in the latest proposed DC city budget. The list of essential services they provide for the area’s neediest is incredible. So Others Might Eat (SOME) is a similar organization that needs your help. Everything from food servers to tutors for children to even a graphic designer is needed. And don’t forget about Miriam’s Kitchen, the Capital Area Food Bank or Arlington Food Assistance Center.  Can you help make sure at least one less person goes to sleep hungry tonight? Your help will accomplish that for many!

Featured Event: A Dance Party that helps feed the homeless?? Skip the club just this once and instead hit up Miriam’s Kitchen’s “Cause for a Dance Party” at the Darlington House in Dupont on Saturday 10/03 at 7pm.

Photo courtesy of
‘show me how to dance’
courtesy of ‘philliefan99′

A Better Tomorrow for Our Youth
Are you a fan of teaching someone to fish? As long as we’re talking about that in a metAphorical sense, there is no better way to achieve it than to help our area’s youth learn and grow into bright young women and men. Every ounce of effort you put in will be repaid to society in spades by that individual’s future contributions. And you are really helping someone who simply has no other way of helping themselves. PLUS, they are kids!

Shannon has volunteered with Community Club and helps with tutoring DC Public School students. You don’t have to hold a PhD. in mathematics to help an elementary school kid learn, you’ve already got what it takes – just a little time. Cathy regularly helps out at Transitional Housing Corporation where she runs activities for the youth in transitional housing to keep their spirits high and keep them focused on what matters. She’s done everything from baking a key lime pie with them to making a dance video! Think of how much freaking fun it would be if you did both in one night…at the same time?!? Volunteering rocks. She also recommends Bright Beginnings, a group that works to help homeless youth and assist them and their parents with ending their homelessness. I can’t think of a more noble cause than helping a small child, whom has no home to live, learn and grow and overcome their situation.

Rebecca informed me about PAHC (Pediatric AIDS/HIV Care), an organization that has been serving youth for over 20 years to help children living with HIV/AIDS live healthy and successful lives. A child infected with this terrible disease is certainly not to blame for their situation – they deserve a helping hand from the rest of us.

And you can also help foster the writing skills of the next We Love DC writer by joining Corinne at Capitol Letters, which helps kids learn to write! A very important skill we don’t often support in young students.

Featured Event: Help the homeless just by walking! The 2009 “Help the Homeless Walk-a-thon” is on Saturday, November 21st and benefits Transitional Housing Corporation.

Photo courtesy of
‘animal house’
courtesy of ‘OlgaKaynow’

A Cause With Paws
I’m such a softie for animals, it kills me to even write about this without going out to volunteer RIGHT NOW at some of these shelters and organizations.
Think volunteering is hard? Why not go over to the Washington Animal Rescue League and help out by being a dog walker or a cat socializer? That’s right, I said cat socializer. Do it! And there are several shelters in our area that would love to have your time or donations; here are a just a few: Washington Humane Society, Animal Welfare League of Arlington, Animal Welfare League of Alexandria.

Build Community
While there may be similar groups in DC, Alexandria, Montgomery and other surrounding counties and cities, I want to focus a little bit on the Arlington Community Volunteer Network (CVN). I’ve been a member of CVN for a while (it was formerly Community Role Models) and have helped out at various volunteer events from landscaping help for the elderly to trash clean ups along Arlington’s parks and streams. This is a group that really knows how to get it done. They receive funding every year from the Arlington County Board but are run as a separate, non-partisan entity of volunteers. What they really excel at is making volunteer activities fun! Every event is performed as a large group and social activities (usually a bar is involved) are planned immediately following each service activity. If you are looking for a way to not only help others and get involved, but also meet a lot of great new people and have a damn good time doing it – join CVN. You will immediately have hundreds of new friends as there are almost 400 people in the Facebook group already!

2008-11 - Community Residences clean-up 1

courtesy of ‘Community Volunteer Network (CVN)’

Getting Out There
There are even a number of sites out there that allow you to find available volunteer opportunities across hundreds of groups that might match your abilities, like VolunteerMatch. And according to Volunteering in America, DC is ranked 9th in the US for volunteering. We have work to do! They also have some further interesting analysis on their site. But no matter what you do or why you do it, a little of your free time can make a tremendously positive difference in this world; and it will make you feel like the rockstar that you are. Give back.

If you have any additional groups or events to mention, leave a comment below. And if you know of something special coming up that you’d like to suggest we cover, suggest it to us as a story and we just might feature it in an upcoming article.

Karl is a Washingtonian who lives and breathes everything that is DC. Politics, ethnic restaurants, sad sports teams, the Metro and pretty much anything in between. Karl’s life is kind of like going to a Nats’ game while eating Ethiopian food and discussing the latest legislation to pass the House. Then cramming on the Metro for a ride home. That ’bout sums it up. See why Karl loves DC or check him out on Twitter.

19 thoughts on “Giving Back: A Guide to Volunteering in DC

  1. Hi Karl,
    This is a great post! Thank you for sharing all of this knowledge about great places to volunteer in the area. I will share this on Facebook and Twitter on behalf of Volunteer Arlington.
    In addition to Volunteer Arlington’s search tool at you may want to check out the new website which is using the “All for Good” tool which brings in volunteer opportunity data from all of the major websites. It also allows you to use an existing account like Facebook or Google to share opportunities with your friends.

    ~Sharon Tewksbury-Bloom
    Volunteer Arlington
    (703) 228-1197

  2. As a kid growing up in DCPS I went to Community Club. I still talk to my tutor, and we’ve become really good friends. They do a lot of great things for the kids that go there. They’re really dedicated, and I’ll be the first to tell you how much it is appreciated. I might not have needed the help back then, but they were a great support structure.

  3. Robert here from VolunteerMatch. Agreed – great post. Right now has over 2,300 participating nonprofits in the DC area alone using our service to recruit volunteers. It would be nice if all the organizations mentioned here joined them. It’s free for nonprofits to use VolunteerMatch, and it really works.

  4. I’m glad you posted this, and I was hoping to find some ideas that were better than I’d already researched.

    But why do so many non-profits put such stringent demands on volunteers? Bread for the City will only accept volunteers who have a resume and who can commit to four months.

    Volunteermatch and DC Cares have screening processes through which everyone must go, including an interview and a training, after which THEY will decide when and where you can volunteer. They might match you up with an organization right away, or they might match you a year from now. And if you aren’t available when they call, then you get a black mark against you for not having put your entire life on hold waiting for them to hook you up.

    Miriam’s Kitchen requires that you be available during the week, and they have a waiting period…and then they contact you when they need you.

    I’ve looked at other organizations too, not just the ones on this list. Smithsonian requires a commitment of six months including at least two weekdays per week. Who can do that besides retirees and students?

    With 15 million people out of work and looking for ways to fill their time until they find a job, I’m surprised and disappointed that so many organizations are unwilling to offer ways for these people (including me) to volunteer but may be fortunate enough to return to the workforce and be unable to finish a six-month commitment.

  5. @kodak
    I recommend you try One Brick.

    One Brick facilitates ‘low commitment’ volunteering. You sign up for events online as and when you have time to spare. OneBrick partner with some of the groups listed above eg capital area food bank and bread for the city and with many more besides to provide them with volunteers. Its worked well for me as my schedule is unpredictable and the people I’ve met are really friendly.

  6. @Kodak – Try DC Cares. They do what I like to call ‘hit and run’ volunteering. They only require you to show up for a single shift for most of their volunteering gigs.

    Many small organizations do not have the resources to train volunteers over and over again so they expect a commitment from the volunteer. I don’t think it’s all that hard to find places that suit your schedule but in the current economy, non-profits are inundated with too many volunteers and have to turn some away. Don’t be mad at organizations that can’t use you. Find a way to be useful to them that suits you. (Could be said for finding employment.)

    If you want a relaxed gig with minimal commitment, try being a personal finance counselor with Virginia Cooperative Extension in Arlington. There is a weekend training class held once every fall and they ask you for 30 volunteer hours over the next 2 years.

  7. oops. I take back what I’ve said about DC Cares since you’ve already been down that path.

    I should also mention the contact for VA Extension is Jennifer Abel. She’s great. Very well-organized and supports all her volunteers. The gigs range from one-off teaching classes in county jail/libraries to monthly one-on-one sessions with a client.

  8. @kodak – that’s not true about Greater DC Cares, yes you have to go to a training process, but then you can sign up with whatever opportunity/ies that you’d like to sign up for each week. They’re super flexible, and you can change from week to week.

  9. @wow, thank you for the OneBrick link — that’s more like it. Greater DC Cares is crazy, thinking that people will pay $25 for the privilege of volunteering one time (so that’s $50 for a couple). What a way to turn people off the idea of volunteerism. We went with VolunteerMatch instead — it was easy, no orientation, no fees, just show up and help out.

  10. Nice thread. Good to see DC has so many active folks. I wanted to correct Kodak’s misleading comment above – he or she has obviously never used We most certainly do NOT have “screening processes through which everyone must go, including an interview and a training.” And we do not “decide when and where you can volunteer.” Trust me: with 10 million visitors a year and more than 70,000 participating nonprofits, we would be *exhausted* if that were the case. Anyone can find an opportunity that looks good and then sign up to get involved at VolunteerMatch. After that, it’s up to the nonprofit how to welcome and orient you. Good luck!

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  14. Does anyone know of any elder-assistance programs in the area? Something like an adopt-a-grandparent or a bingo night at an assisted living facility? I have been trying to become involved in something like this in DC for a while now, but haven’t had any success in finding a group that does anything like this.


  15. Great article, but you didn’t mention Community of Hope! This is the organization where I currently work, but I volunteered here first for 2 years. COH provides housing for homeless families. We have a health clinic in Adams Morgan, a permanent housing initiative called Home Now, and two transitional housing units (one in SE and one in Columbia Heights).

    Volunteers can mentor children, supervise childcare, and help out in the clinic to name just a few. Here’s the link to the volunteer page:

  16. Great post on ways for people to get involved! I publish all of the events for Community Volunteer Network and appreciate the shout out. Look for a bunch of CVN events being posted in the next week!

  17. Great post with very helpful information! We run the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Jconnect volunteer clearinghouse for the whole GW area that sends volunteers to many of the organizations listed. Contact us if you are looking for ways to volunteer and we’ll help you get out there in the community: