Strong communities make people feel welcome. And a great way to build community is by volunteering.
The holiday season is a season of giving to your loved ones, but also to your community. Giving Tuesday, celebrated the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, is a day devoted to donating to community groups who need support to keep making people’s lives better. But you can give back all year long not just by donating money (though that’s of course extremely helpful) but also by donating your time.
If you have a New Year’s resolution to become more involved in your community, one of the best ways to go about it is to volunteer. There are community groups, nonprofits, and activist organizations everywhere that could use your help. The more you become involved in a community project, whether it’s focused on supporting people in need, animals, the environment, or community health, the more you’ll feel connected to the project and the people on your team — and you’ll be helping to make sure others in the community have their needs met, too.
We’ve put together a list of places across Pa. where you can explore volunteering. If one opportunity strikes your fancy, but it’s located on the other side of the state, check to see if a similar project needs help in your region.
Be sure to remember that most organizations prefer long-term volunteer commitments, rather than short-term or drop-in volunteer shifts — though one-off volunteering is sometimes possible. You’ll also want to ask organizations about any volunteer requirements, like training or safety clearances.
Where to volunteer in Western PA
If you want to spend time with animals, consider volunteering with Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh, which needs volunteers at its two shelters as well as the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. Volunteers are trained by HARP in handling animals. Read more on the HARP website.
Art lovers may want to get involved with Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Art, perhaps as a docent. Volunteer docents lead museum visitors on guided tours of the art museum. Becoming a volunteer takes a bit of time and effort — you’ll spend 10-12 months taking art history courses, being mentored by current docents, and practicing your new skill until you’re ready to amaze audiences.
To the north, the Upper Room of Erie is always looking for new volunteers to help support Erie’s unhoused people in order to ensure those experiencing homelessness have access to showers, restrooms, computers, and a place to spend time — especially in the cold. Fill out the online interest form to start the process of becoming an Upper Room volunteer.
Where to volunteer in Central PA
Tri County Community Action has a number of volunteer opportunities available for folks in Cumberland, Dauphin, and Perry Counties. Those wanting to help low-income people can work to make sure they get their full tax refunds by volunteering with free tax preparation services during tax season (January to April). No tax expertise is necessary, and training is provided. You can work one-on-one with taxpayers or serve as a greeter or translator. In the spring, gardeners may enjoy helping out at Sunflower Fields, a community garden in Harrisburg.
Runners in particular may be interested in getting involved with Girls on the Run, a program that supports girls’ confidence and health that culminates in running a 5K. But even if you’re not a runner, you may still want to spend time volunteering with Girls on the Run Mid State PA — you can still support individual projects or help manage the 5K events.
Where to volunteer in Southeastern PA
Sports lovers can get involved with the Philadelphia chapter of Special Olympics Pennsylvania and support this organization offering year-round sports training for people with intellectual disabilities. You can help with coaching athletes or you can support the organization behind the scenes by managing events or signing up for administrative work.
More interested in books? Readers may want to spend their time supporting Philly’s kids by becoming a Philly Reading Coach. Trained volunteers are paired with K-3 students to assist them one-on-one with their reading. Five different elementary schools are seeking reading coaches in 2024. Fill out an interest form online.
Where to volunteer in the Lehigh Valley
The Volunteer Center of the Lehigh Valley is a one-stop shop to find volunteer opportunities in and around Lehigh and Northampton Counties. The organization serves as a clearinghouse for nonprofit volunteer needs, and you can easily search by your relevant skills, cause area, and your availability. For instance, history lovers could volunteer at various sites run by Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites, whether one serves as a docent, guiding folks around museums, or as a volunteer in a museum gift shop. And those up for a challenge could even learn an essential skill and become a first responder by joining the ranks of volunteer firefighters at Han-Le-Co Fire Company.
Where to volunteer in Northeastern PA
Lovers of the outdoors may want to consider volunteering with Lackawanna Heritage Valley National and State Heritage Area, which has a volunteer corps, Ambassadors in Action, that provides clerical support, help with events, as well as trail clean-up and maintenance of the Lackawanna River Heritage Trail. Scranton-area volunteers could also work with railroad-focused Steamtown National Historic Site, which regularly needs volunteers to work with visitors, transcribe historical records, and even work with railroad operations.
Where else can I find volunteer opportunities?
Check volunteer listing sites like VolunteerMatch and Idealist to learn about your community’s volunteer needs. Sometimes, cities and towns will post their own volunteer opportunities online, so check your local community’s websites. Finally, there are a handful of national networks with local organizations or chapters that are almost always looking for volunteers: some of these organizations include United Way, Habitat for Humanity, and Feeding America.
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