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Giving back: A guide to volunteering in Grand Rapids

GAAH and the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan created this stunning mural on Grandville Avenue.

Giving back through volunteering does more than just help the organization that receives your efforts. It expands your mind, extends your network, creates new friendships, and in some cases gets you into events for free!

Check out our roundup of some of our local organizations that are easy to sign up for, have lots of programming, and are really fun. (Click on the name of the organization for the groups' information on volunteering.)

Of course, this is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the many wonderful groups in our area who are looking for volunteers. Please feel free to share who you love supporting in the comments below.

Urban Institute for Contemporary Art (UICA)
Become a docent (a guide) to expand your knowledge, improve your speaking and presentation skills, and gain access to nationally recognized art. Remember, nothing beefs up your dinner party conversation more than a little insider art information from the latest exhibit.
Training Required: Yes



Grand Rapids Main Library & Branches
Whether it’s special events, helping with the Summer Reading Program, or assisting the Grand Rapids History & Special Collections Department, you will be able to find a great way to give back to your community. The Main Library’s Instagram account is a great example of how to make learning cool and funny. See their post from Aug. 2 for a good chuckle.
Training Required: No

Organizations serving refugees in Grand Rapids
Michigan has long been one of the top states to welcome refugees in the country. Here in West Michigan, we are fortunate to have numerous organizations serving those who come to the United States as refugees, including: the Refugee Education Center, Bethany Christian Services, Samaritas, Thrive: A Refugee Support Program, and Justice for Our Neighbors. At these various sites, you can lend a hand by doing everything from helping individuals settle into their new lives immediately after they move here to furnishing apartments and more.
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.

The Grand Rapids Community Media Center (GRTV, WYCE, Rapidian, and Wealthy Theatre)
The aspiring PEGOT (Pulitzer, Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) training ground of Grand Rapids, this local organization has it all, from spinning records to ushering seats. If you happen to volunteer at the Wealthy Theatre you’ll find yourself being treated to a free pop, popcorn, and a free seat if any are open. That’s a hefty reward given that a night at a normal cineplex will cost you at least $20.
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.



Friends of Grand Rapids Parks

This is the perfect choice for the green thumbed citizen. Our city parks can always use a little TLC whether it’s spring, summer, or fall. Did I mention they have a Citizen Forester program? There’s no official patch for your jacket arm sleeve just yet, but they do have other neat FGRP swag!
Training Required: No, Offered

Hispanic Center of Western Michigan
If you find you need to break out of your bubble, then check out the Hispanic Center. Located on the southwest side of the city, this organization welcomes volunteers from all skill levels. Although speaking Spanish does help, it is not required. Experts say the best way to learn a language is through immersion!
Training Required: No

Grand Rapids Ballet
This is the only professional ballet company in Michigan, and we have it right around the corner. To witness extraordinary people defy gravity and push the human body to its limit, you’ll want to grab a seat of your own with your volunteer discount.
Training Required: No

Grand Rapids Civic Theatre
Building sets, sewing costumes, helping with props, and that’s just on stage! If you rather stand away from the limelight, the theatre has plenty of other off-stage opportunities. But beware, once you get a taste for the lights and glow, you may begin to hear the stage calling!
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.

Well House
You can increase access to safe, affordable housing in Grand Rapids by lending a hand to this nonprofit that purchases vacant, boarded-up houses in the city and brings them back to life to provide housing for our homeless neighbors. Work in their garden, help fix up homes and more.
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.

The Grand Rapids Red Project
For more than a decade and a half, this organization has been dedicated to improving health, providing health resources, and preventing HIV, accidental drug overdose, and Hepatitis C. Volunteers are always needed to help build a stronger community, including to work during the Walk To End HIV, World AIDS Day, and more.
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.

Grand Rapids Art Museum
Be a docent, assist in the gift shop, or help with the youth or family programs. Pick anything from the list of opportunities; any one of the options will bring you up close and center to world renowned art.
Training Required: Depends on what you’d like to do.

Autism Support of Kent County
From friendship support groups for children and teens with autism to free movie screenings for families, there are plenty of ways to get involved with this nonprofit. The group holds monthly family activities for anyone affected by autism, and they’re always looking for volunteers for these events.
Training Required: No

Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities
With its Cook Arts Center and Cook Library Center, the Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities aims to empower and enrich the lives of youth who live in the Grandville community. (Recently, for example, GAAH teamed up with the Hispanic Center of Western Michigan to offer teenagers the chance to paint a gorgeous public mural on Grandville Avenue.) Both centers depend on student and community volunteers to run their many classes and programs, including their Teen Leaders in the Arts, Girls Rock! Grand Rapids, and more.
Training Required: Depends on what you'd like to do.

West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology
Are you tech savvy? Want to work with some seriously talented teens? There’s some very fun ways to volunteer with WMCAT, an organization that does everything from empower the city’s teens to affect social change through design thinking to provide free job training for underemployed adults.
Training Required: Yes

Grand Rapids African American Health Institute
Volunteer with this nonprofit to help promote health care parity in the city’s African American community. Through advocacy, education and research, the organizations ensures that all residents have access to excellent health care.
Training: Depends on what you’d like to do.

Kids Food Basket
One in five children in Michigan experiences hunger, but the Grand Rapids-based Kids Food Basket is changing that with its Sack Supper program, which ensure thousands of our community’s children can receive nutritious evening meals that their parents often cannot afford. This is a great organization to volunteer for as an individual or a group -- you can do a wish list drive, help with the sack suppers, raise money through school dances or benefit concerts, and more.
Training: No

Dégagé Ministries
There are more than 1,200 volunteers who give their time to Dégagé, and the organization is always on the lookout for more. This group plays a big role in supporting our neighbors who are homeless, providing services like transportation, funding for prescription co-pays, appointment scheduling, meals, showers, storage space, trips to places like Lake Michigan and Whitecaps games, and an overnight women’s shelter. There are endless volunteering opportunities, from taking people to a baseball game to hosting movie nights, when you’ll have a chance to get to know your homeless neighbors better.
Training: No

HQ
A drop-in center for youth ages 14 through 24 who are experiencing homelessness, HQ gives teens and young adults a place to rest, connect with resources and spend time with friends. Volunteers provide a huge range of services at this center, which provides individuals everything from meals and showers to help with job searches and housing, and a whole lot more.
Training: Yes

The Eastown Street Fair. Your local neighborhood association
Want to see something in your neighborhood change? Or have an idea that you think could make your area even better? Throughout the city, there are numerous neighborhood associations that would love to see volunteers help with a huge range of activities: street festivals, community meet-and-greets, official association meetings, and a whole lot more. You can find contact information for your neighborhood association here.
Training: No

Catherine’s Health Center
This nonprofit, community-based health facility offers medical care to low-income, underinsured residents -- and support from volunteers is vital. Right now, they have opportunities for primary care professionals, registered nurses, health coaches, computer assistants, and more.
Training: Yes

Literacy Center of West Michigan
One in eight adults in West Michigan struggle with low literacy. The Literacy Center of West Michigan offers a variety of literacy programs for adults, and volunteer tutors are needed to work with adult learners. You’ll get to meet people from all over the city -- and globe -- who will enrich your life as much as you enrich theirs.
Training: Yes

Whether you’re looking to get more involved in our city or fulfill that New Year’s resolution of spontaneity be sure to bring a family member, a friend, maybe even a date! Just don’t forget to snag a picture and tag these great organizations online before you leave!
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