Think of it as
the mother ship for Northeast Ohio hunger centers. In the past year,
the Cleveland Foodbank has collected and distributed 27 million pounds
of food and served 450 food pantries, shelters and hot meal programs in
six counties. Demand is up 26 percent this year, the biggest yearly
increase in the Foodbank’s 30-year history.
DO: Help in the warehouse sorting and packaging
food, or prep hot meals in the Cleveland Community
DONATE: Every dollar buys four meals, or donate
one of the “super six” most-needed items: beef
stew, canned soup, canned vegetables, cereal, peanut butter or tuna
On the premise that everyone needs a friend, Friend-to-Friend matches
volunteers with same-gender inmates at local state prisons and asks
them to simply visit once a month for a few hours. “You
don’t have to worry about what to talk about; it’s
more about listening than anything else,” says program
manager Steve Messner, himself a volunteer who’s on his
seventh match since 1996. Messner asks for a one-year commitment from
volunteers though some matches have lasted up to five years. More than
180 formerly incarcerated locals have benefited from Friend-to-Friend
while 37 inmates are currently receiving visits.
DO: Men in particular are needed for matches
with male inmates at Grafton Correctional Institution in Lorain County,
and women receive matches at the Northeast Pre-Release Center
downtown. Building Hope in the City
When 15 Burundian refugees showed up
on the doorstep of Building Hope in the City three years ago, the staff
discovered how little support was available for the growing number of
refugees resettled here. “There are 500 to 600 refugees
resettled in [Northeast Ohio] each year,” says Building
Hope’s Brian Upton. ”Catholic Charities, [the
government-contracted case managers for local refugees], gets only six
months of dollars from the government to resettle them; then, they have
to move on.” To help ease that transition, Building Hope
started The Hope Center for Refugees and Immigrants, which provides
mentoring and support for new arrivals.
“Adopt” a refugee family to visit once a week to be
a friend, shop with them or help with other basic tasks.
“You’d be surprised by how much your presence helps
them in their confidence when they have their new American friend in
line with them at Kmart,” Upton says.
DONATE: Funds help provide English classes for
refugee families, after-school programming for their children, and
transportation to jobs and
The only free advocacy organization
for victims of sexual violence in Cuyahoga County provides crisis
support through its 24-hour hot line and ongoing justice system
advocacy and therapy to 10,000 people every year.
DO: Staff the crisis hot line, or serve as a
face-to-face advocate for victims of sexual assault. No experience is
required, and the rape crisis center provides 40 hours of free
DONATE: Useful items include
girly stuff such as nail polish and perfume for the center’s
teen empowerment conference, Girls Kick Butt, or personal care items
for survivors in the emergency department. Every $1,000 pays for 20
therapy hours for an adult rape survivor.
ALSO CONSIDER:Lorain County Rape Crisis Center,
Lorain, (440) 282-2795; Rape Crisis Center of Medina and Summit
Counties, Akron, rccmsc.org, (330) 374-0740,
ext.122; Lake County Victim Assistance Program, Painesville, (440)
360-2691 Women’s Center of Greater
Cleveland womensctr.org, (216) 651-1450
This drug and alcohol treatment program for women served 2,100 women
and their families last year, providing support not just to kick their
habits but also to stabilize the
life circumstances that often cause relapse.
DO: Become a part of the Women’s
Center’s unique annual fundraising event — a
three-day sports festival called run,jane,run. It’s a
women-only golf outing, volleyball tournament, and 5K and 10K race in
one. Graduates of the center share their stories.
DONATE: Clothes and personal care items for
women and children are always needed, and cash donations support
treatment and child care for indigent women.
Helping Clevelanders stay in their homes is the goal of Rebuilding
Together, which hosts Rebuilding Day every summer to repair and rehab
the homes of low-income families and seniors. “The typical
home-owner we serve has been in their home 35 years and needs help with
the cost and labor to maintain their home,” says executive
director Sheila Lee. “Otherwise, they’re often
cited by housing court or experience enormous energy bills.”
Last year 200 Cleveland homeowners applied, but funds were available
for only 20 homes to be rehabbed.
DO: Rebuilding Day is June
26, 2010. Rebuilding Together will supply the tools. You bring the
elbow grease for everything from painting and minor carpentry to
landscaping and trash removal. Tradespeople are particularly needed.
DONATE: Contributions help with the cost of the
paint, brushes, work gloves and other supplies.
Next year marks 100 years of The City Mission’s work with the
homeless, urban poor and incarcerated in Cleveland. The organization
relies on about 900 active volunteers to serve 3,500 men, women and
children with basic needs such as shelter, food and clothing.
DO: Serve a meal, visit an inmate, sort donated
clothing, tutor youth, or teach life skills or
résumé-writing classes to homeless men and women.
DONATE: Eighty percent of your monetary donation
goes directly to The City Mission’s services, or consider
donating such items as diapers, twin sheet sets for its 254 beds or
used washers, dryers, vans or kitchen appliances.
Forget those candy striper stereotypes; today, volunteerism at
MetroHealth Medical Center goes way beyond Jell-O delivery. Join a
volunteer force 600-plus strong at the main campus of MetroHealth
Medical Center or at one of its 12 outpatient health centers or two
skilled-nursing centers. Volunteers can read to pediatric patients in
outpatient clinics or interview long-term care patients and collect
their memories for family members.
DO: Professional and amateur
musicians and vocalists are needed to perform for patients and families
through Metro’s new Spirit of Music program.
DONATE: Give to the MetroHealth fund that hits
closest to your heart, such as the Oncology Patient Care, Education and
Research Fund for cancer support or the Care for Those in Need Fund to
support care for the needy.
This national nonprofit has deep Ohio roots, starting with its founding
by Elyria businessman Edgar Allen in 1919. Today, Easter Seals Northern
Ohio serves adults and kids with disabilities in 27 counties with
medical, educational and recreational services.
DO: Man the scavenger hunt at Walk With Me, lend
a party-planning hand at the Single in the City Bachelor &
Bachelorette Auction, or help children and adults with disabilities
fish and do crafts at the summer day camps or adult day programs.
DONATE: Donations fund such programs as
camperships to help parents of children with disabilities afford
special-needs camps or medical equipment loans to needy families.
This sports program for kids with physical disabilities goes beyond
just providing adaptive equipment. It pairs teen volunteers one-to-one
with participants to create fun and friendships through bowling, ice
hockey, golf, fishing and more. Older participants are also mobilized
to volunteer according to their abilities.
DO: Send your 12- to
18-year-olds to help with after-school sports programs. Many start
coming to fulfill school service requirements, says Youth
Challenge’s Sarah Perez-Stable, “but the more they
come, it becomes a place to hang with their friends.”
DONATE: Transportation and programming is free
to participants, so your $1,500 gift sponsors one child for one year.
Free Medical Clinic of Greater
Cleveland thefreeclinic.org, (216)
The largest free clinic in Ohio serves 10,000 patients a year with
basic medical and dental services, HIV/AIDS testing and education,
mental health and substance abuse treatment, and more. Volunteers keep
the doors open. They outnumber paid staff 5-to-1, which includes only
two part-time physicians and two full-time nurse practitioners.
DO: The Free Clinic needs plenty of health care
professionals to volunteer. Others receive training to help with the
HIV/AIDS testing program, patient intake, and health education and
community outreach events.
DONATE: A large majority of
donations go directly to patient care and pharmaceutical costs.
The nonprofit Jennings Center boasts something for every senior, from
independent and assisted living to nursing and specialized
Alzheimer’s care in a campus setting. But don’t
expect stark walls and somber moods here — residents can
visit the on-site beauty shop and wellness center, hit the gift shop,
participate in games and activities or play with local kids in the
colocated child care center. “This isn’t your
grandmother’s nursing home anymore,” says CEO
DO: Help transport residents from their rooms to
the beauty shop, offer your Hands Helping Hands
with basic nail care and hand/arm massage, or participate in
Jennings’ pet therapy program or special events.
DONATE: Donations help subsidize care for the 75
percent of nursing home residents on Medicaid, on which Jennings loses
$30 a day per patient.
ALSO CONSIDER:The Advocate of Not-for-Profit Services for Older Ohioans,
aopha.org and search for member facilities by
Case Western Reserve University biomedical engineer Bill Memberg
responded to an ad 20 years ago looking for help fixing toys for kids
with disabilities. Tinkering with adapted toys “because it
was fun” led Memberg to found RePlay for Kids in 1999, which
now adapts and repairs toys for 19 agencies in eight counties.
DO: Recruit 10 or more friends for a few hours
to add specialized switches to toys that allow kids with disabilities
to activate them with a puff on a tube or a head movement. RePlay will
visit you, and there’s no technical experience required
though Memberg does need handy folks to oversee workshops.
DONATE: Give new or gently used battery-operated
toys or money to help Memberg purchase toys, tools and supplies.
Intergenerational School tisonline.org, (216)
Tutoring is hardly the word to describe volunteers’
contributions at The Intergenerational School, a 208-student community
charter elementary school located inside Fairhill Partners Center for
Aging. Older adults are integral to the school’s curriculum
and culture, which even welcomes individuals suffering from dementia
and Alzheimer’s. And it’s working:
Intergenerational School received the state’s highest
academic rating of “excellent” last year.
DO: The school’s greatest need is for
“reading mentors” to work one-on-one on reading
skills, but volunteers can also oversee a hobby club, be an arts mentor
or participate in Chess for Success.
DONATE: Contribute school
supplies, computer equipment or furniture, or visit adoptaclassroom.com to
sponsor an Intergenerational School class.
ALSO CONSIDER:Experience Corps, throughout Cleveland Metropolitan School
District, greaterclevelandvolunteers.org, (216)
391-9500 Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater
“We do just one thing: Place a caring adult in the life of a
child,” says CEO Margaret Mitchell. In school and community
settings, Big Brothers Big Sisters makes mentoring matches between
volunteers and youth at various stages of the at-risk scale. The
organization oversaw more than 1,000 matches last year.
DO: A “Big” is required only
to establish a relationship with their matched
“Little” and then have some fun — catch a
Cavs game, go fishing, drop by their school for lunch, or drive them to
a college visit. “When you’re talking about making
real transformational change [in a child’s life],
it’s made through relationships,” Mitchell says.
The average match lasts 2 1/2 years, though Big Brothers Big Sisters
asks for a one-year commitment.
DONATE: A $1,000 gift
supports the creation and support of one match for one year.
Brothers Big Sisters of Summit/Medina Counties, Akron (330) 376-6503
and Medina (330) 725-8455, bbbssmc.org; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast
Ohio, Painesville, bbbsneo.org, (440)
of Literacy seedsofliteracy.org,
Dropout rates are high among classroom-style GED and adult literacy
programs, so Seeds of Literacy offers free, one-on-one tutoring that
achieves double the retention rate of the national average. Students
range in age from 18 to 60-plus yet typically read at a fourth-grade
DO: Become a tutor for day or evening courses.
Seeds of Literacy provides free training, and there’s no
prior teaching experience required.
DONATE: Without any state or
federal funding, Seeds relies on donations to purchase books and
supplies, train tutors and recruit students.
A program of the Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland, Camp Ho
Mita Koda gives kids with diabetes a traditional summer camp experience
with the specialized care they need. More than 300 kids ages 6 to 15
descend on this 72-acre Newbury camp each summer for three-, five- or
DO: This spring, help paint and clean cabins,
set up for programs, and spruce up the grounds. Then, return in the
fall to winterize the gardens, chop firewood and pack away those craft
supplies. Miss that camp experience? Volunteer as a summer activity
DONATE: No child is turned away for inability to
pay, so $375 will cover one child’s five-day program.
Leaving a domestic violence situation creates a quandary for pet
owners: Take Fido along into an uncertain future, or leave him behind
in a dangerous one? SAFE provides temporary care for pets of victims in
domestic violence situations (and of those dealing with foreclosures
and medical emergencies) “so they can leave and know their
pet is safe,” says SAFE’s Heather McNally Milko.
DO: Foster an animal in your home (typically 30
to 60 days), or help with animal pick-up and drop-off.
DONATE: A grant covers medical care at the
Animal Protective League, but donations help offset the costs of food
and preventative medicines. Lake Erie Nature & Science
Center lensc.org, (440) 871-2900,
This nature center offers a planetarium and indoor and outdoor wildlife
and aquatic exhibits year-round. Its wildlife rehabilitation program
also takes in about 1,000 injured and ill animals a year.
DO: Volunteers help care for and feed animals on
exhibit and those undergoing rehabilitation. Participate in the nature
center’s wildlife education by toting your favorite critter
DONATE: Contributions underwrite care and
feeding of animals on exhibit and in rehab, as well as operating costs
of this free nature center. Make a general donation or Adopt-an-Animal
such as your favorite fox, gecko or snake.
ALSO CONSIDER:Penitentiary Glen Nature Center, Kirtland,
lakemetroparks.com, (440) 256-1404; Cleveland Museum of
Natural History, University Circle, cmnh.org, (216) 231-4600, ext.
Eyes for the Blind gebcuyahoga.org, (440)
Before guide dogs head into service for the blind, they’re
raised by families who prepare them for the intensive training that
lies ahead. At least two dozen such puppies are raised each year in
Northeast Ohio by volunteers for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
DO: Prepare a future guide dog by raising a
puppy, usually from 8 weeks to 18 months of age. Weekly classes guide
puppy raisers through the strict program, which includes gradually
exposing the pup to crowds, city streets, restaurants and quiet
settings such as church. Puppy sitters are also needed to help out for
a week or two when local raisers take a vacation.
DONATE: Contributions support the veterinary
care and supplies needed by local puppy raisers. Sanctuary for Senior Dogs sanctuaryforseniordogs.org,
Older dogs can be hard to place at pounds and shelters. So the
Sanctuary for Senior Dogs rescues dogs ages 7 and up from pounds and
shelters, where they’d likely be euthanized, and places them
in foster homes as they wait for adoption.
DO: Become a foster owner to
an older dog. The Sanctuary picks up medical and food costs. Founder
Deborah Workman turns away a dozen older dogs a day due to lack of
DONATE: Your contributions help offset those vet
bills and food costs while helping the sanctuary market its graying
The professional orchestra of first-rate local and visiting musicians
performs in your community, and it’s always free, no tickets
required. That’s what CityMusic Cleveland delivers along with
a music education program for kids in Slavic Village and Elyria.
DO: Provide accommodations or transportation to
a visiting CityMusic musician, or drop off some meals during
rehearsals. Volunteers also usher and staff an intermission reception
at CityMusic concerts.
Dig out that violin your kid discarded after three months, and donate
it to CityMusic’s after-school youth orchestras. Financial
contributions help CityMusic pay its professional musicians.
It’s the antidote to late-winter blahs — a group of
400 movie-loving volunteers will unite March 18 to 28 in support of the
Cleveland International Film Festival, which last year attracted more
than 300 short and feature-length films. Ninety percent of CIFF
volunteers return yearly, says volunteer co-coordinator Beth Steele
Radisek, and not just for the free movie passes.
“It’s the buzz of the festival and the great
friendships they make.”
DO: Usher, hand out ballots,
validate parking, or lend your rear end as a seat saver.
DONATE: Donations are
matched by a sponsor and help offset the expenses of bringing in
filmmakers. Art On
Wheels aowinc.com, (216)
The art education program goes just about anywhere for just about
anyone: children, adults, kids with disabilities, the blind, the deaf,
senior citizens, you name it. “Many of them can’t
afford to go to outside classes, nor do they have the
transportation,” says executive director Carolina Martin.
DO: Lend what Martin calls
“an extra pair of hands and a kind voice” as a
teaching assistant, no art experience required, or help organize and
stock art supplies in Art on Wheels’ 4,000-square-foot studio
in the Flats.
DONATE: Contributions offset
replenishment of art supplies, fuel expenses and instructor fees.
National Park Association cvnpa.org, (330) 657-2909, ext.
It’s our own little piece of America’s Best Idea
— the 33,000-acre Cuyahoga Valley National Park that relies
on more than 2,500 volunteers annually.
DO: About 1,000 volunteers are needed now for
the national park’s popular Polar Express event, including
folks willing to dress up like elves and hand out bells and hot
chocolate. Throughout the year, volunteers maintain trails; serve as
Wildlife Watchers, who assist guests at park hot spots; and even work
as volunteer conductors on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.
DONATE: Sponsor an acre of
your favorite part of the park, from wetlands to meadows, for $75
annually at parkshares.org.
Green Corps is a Cleveland Botanical Garden summer work-study program
that puts Cleveland high school students to work cultivating five urban
gardens, including its newest in Fairfax, and selling the resulting
Ripe from Downtown products.
DO: The students may be
paid, but volunteers prep the gardens by weeding, mulching and building
new beds every spring so they’re ready for planting as soon
as the last school bell rings. Volunteers return in the fall to help
harvest the remaining crop and put the gardens to bed.
DONATE: Funds support the salaries Green Corps
students receive, plus tools and supplies. Earth Day Coalition earthdaycoalition.org,
They’re the folks behind EarthFest, the annual Earth Day
celebration at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo that draws up to 50,000
attendees and 500-plus volunteers. But the nearly 21-year-old Earth Day
Coalition also has its hands in environmental education and
neighborhood activism year-round, including the new NatureHood program
to create native plant naturescapes on abandoned city lots.
DO: Volunteer to help run
the Family Fun Area at EarthFest, check in participants at Walk or Bike
for the Earth, or staff a booth at another Earth Day Coalition
community outreach event. Orientation at the zoo is Jan. 9 from 10 to
11:30 a.m. RSVP at (216) 281-6468, ext.
DONATE: A $35 membership supports the
coalition’s programs and outreach and gets you plenty of cool
stuff in return.
Nature Conservancy in Ohio, regionwide, nature.org to search by region; Eco-Watch,
regionwide, ecowatch.org, (216) 387-1609