San Diego Guide to Volunteer Vacations
Featuring San Diego Rescue Mission, Habitat for Humanity & The National Wildlife Refuge
A recent decision to perform 51 kind acts in my 51st year of life was the catalyst for seeking out volunteer opportunities around San Diego. What followed was a heartwarming discovery of big-hearted angels who live in our community. One day with these selfless individuals restores faith in humanity. It doesn’t require a huge act to make a difference; a small gesture repeated by many can improve others’ lives tremendously. So instead of wallowing on sun-dappled beaches for your next getaway, take a volunteer vacation and lend a head to those in need. Below are a few stellar organizations.
Habitat For Humanity via Marriott San Diego Mission Valley
8757 Rio San Diego Drive
San Diego, CA 92108
Habitat For Humanity came to fruition when one couple realized “every man, woman and child should have a simple, decent, affordable place to live in dignity and safety.” Just as a minuscule grain of sand becomes a pearl, so too a small act of kindness has blossomed into 500,000 houses worldwide sheltering partnering families. The premise is a “hand up, not a handout.” Recipients are responsible for a nominal down payment, commitment to an affordable mortgage, and hundreds of hours of labor, or “sweat equity”, to make their home a reality. The non-profit, ecumenical Christian organization has affiliates throughout the United States which facilitate local building projects. San Diego Habitat For Humanity was founded in 1987 and has built 130 homes throughout the community, with hundreds more on the drawing board. Volunteers can devote any amount of time to a project. No building experience is necessary, on the job training is provided. After arduous days of hammering, sawing, plastering and painting, pampering is available at the Marriott Mission Valley three miles from HFH headquarters.
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. They are the life blood of our world. Herb Johnson is a local hero who chose to be the CEO of the beleaguered San Diego Rescue Mission instead of roaming the country in an RV. The daily influx of hungry, drug addled, and abused men, women and children into the facility would make most people weary. But Herb and his staff look beyond themselves and cater to the needs of the downtrodden. Their only request is that participants attend daily chapel. The recession has produced even more homeless families and more mouths to feed for the Rescue Mission. While most volunteers devote time during the holidays, it’s the day to day meal service that needs help, whether it’s for a week, a month or a year. Ten servers are needed at each breakfast, lunch and dinner. A phone call to volunteer coordinator Deborah Williams one week prior to arrival is the only prerequisite. The Holiday Inn three blocks away has all the comforts of home for volunteer vacationers.
Make-A-Wish Foundation via Bay Club Hotel & Marina
2131 Shelter Island Drive
San Diego, CA 92106
Most people are familiar with the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s philanthropy of granting wishes to sick children. But the greatest misconception is that the children are terminally ill. On the contrary, many kids have life threatening medical conditions, but survive their illnesses and go on to lead normal, productive lives. However, this does not minimize the need of a beneficiary whose childhood has been waylaid by a sickness. The organization began in 1980 when a 7-year-old Arizona boy was battling leukemia. His dream was to become a policeman, so he was sworn in as an honorary officer. Yet the generous gestures of the law enforcement snowballed into a worldwide charity which has granted over 200,000 dreams to date. San Diego’s chapter began in 1983 and serves Imperial County as well. While volunteering with any children’s organization requires a background check, fingerprinting, etc. people can still help out in other ways. Each September Make-A-Wish hosts the Tuna Challenge. It’s the largest tuna fishing competition in the USA and the biggest fundraiser for the San Diego Chapter. Over the past 20 years the event has raised over $2.4 million. Hundreds flood into the Silver Gate Yacht Club, rod in hand, ready to make a difference in sick children’s lives. The three day tournament is located beside the Bay Club Hotel & Marina, the perfect home base for out-of-towners.
San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex via Loews Coronado Bay Resort & Spa
4000 Coronado Bay Road
San Diego, CA 92118
It’s not always people who need help. Animals require our assistance too. The past decade has raised awareness of overcrowded dog and cat shelters, animal abuse, and humans’ encroachment on natural habitats creating a dearth of land for wildlife. The San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, comprised of the Sweetwater Marsh and South Bay Refuge aims to rectify the problem with environmental education. The 4,000 plus acre marsh supports flora and fauna from becoming extinct in the county. Chula Vista Nature Center sits among the sanctuary. It offers interactive exhibits, guided walks, a shark and ray exhibit, and a huge aviary housing burrowing owls, egrets and herons who are unable to be released due to special needs. Tens of thousands of migratory birds stop over while traveling the Pacific Flyway. Rare eel grass, Pacific green turtles, and least terns are just a few of the endangered species seeking refuge. A majority of the jobs require training and a long term commitment. But volunteer vacationers may help with trail maintenance, carpentry and habitat restoration. Each stint runs one day for four hours. An array of tasks could require a weeks worth of aid. If multiple days are necessary the Loews Coronado Bay Resort is across the estuary three miles away.
San Diego Symphony via Sheraton Suites San Diego
701 A Street
San Diego, CA 92101
The Arts have been hit hard by the economy and the San Diego Symphony is no exception. With well over a dozen performances a month, the venue is humming with patrons wanting to be entertained. Voluntary ushers are a large part of the events. At any given performance they divert chaos as hundreds are being seated prior to the show. Emergency exits and procedures are etched into their minds, restroom locations memorized, and monitoring bar concessions are just a few tasks. The seating layout must be second nature and late arrivals tactfully handled. A two-hour training session is required for all volunteers. Afterwards volunteers report to the Usher Captain, Floor Captain and House Manager. A Sheraton Suites is located on floors twelve through twenty-six of the Copley Symphony Hall building, which will come in handy should one be assigned matinee and evening usher duties.