Volunteer New York! | Photo courtesy of Volunteer New York!
Here is our guide to Westchester’s top volunteering opportunities, along with some helpful info about how to get started.
By Paul Adler, with assistance by Scout O’Donnell
With a devastating pandemic nearly in the rearview mirror, our county can use all the help it can get. However, volunteering for Westchester’s deserving individuals, nonprofits, and aid organizations can entail some pretty surprising (and fun) activities one might not usually associate with rolling up their sleeves and pitching in. Whether its writing letters to overseas troops, fostering cuddly critters, or acting as an ambassador for an arts organization, here is our guide to Westchester’s top volunteering opportunities, along with some helpful info about how to get started.
Note: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some opportunities may not be available. Please see individual websites for any applicable conditions and/or restrictions.
How to Begin Volunteering
Looking for a little Volunteering 101? Tony Fasciano, director of communications for Volunteer New York!, provides the lowdown on how to become a top-tier volunteer.
Know Your Schedule
“Before you volunteer, consider your availability. Can you only complete a single-day project, or could you volunteer once a week — or once a month? Don’t push yourself! While consistent service is always needed, nonprofits are happy to have your help, no matter how often you volunteer.”
Listen to Nonprofits
“Always remember that the nonprofit knows best what they need. Prioritize their goals and needs over what you think will be ‘fun’ for you. For example, collecting 100 candy bars for a homeless shelter sounds cool, but if our friends experiencing homelessness desperately need socks to stay warm this winter, then candy ain’t gonna cut it.”
“Treat your volunteer role like your job. Be friendly, reliable, and eager to learn. Have a positive attitude and be a team player!”
“Remember that nonprofit services are essential for keeping a community healthy and thriving. Sometimes it’s your own neighbor who needs a helping hand, so don’t judge. Your community is only as strong as what you put into it.”
Rock Your Resources
“Use Volunteer New York! as your tool for finding, registering for, and keeping track of your volunteer projects.”
“Soup kitchens and animal shelters aren’t the only volunteer needs out there. When it comes to community service, those places are typically overwhelmed by volunteer support and don’t usually need help. Instead, see where you can apply your skills to support nonprofits with administrative tasks — such as website design, social media, or data entry.”
Families & Kids
Looking to help out the little ones of Westchester? Here are a few local opportunities aimed at aiding children and their families.
Ronald McDonald House of the Greater Hudson Valley
According to Tricia Robbins, marketing and community relations coordinator at the Ronald McDonald House of the Greater Hudson Valley, volunteers “provide support to families, making their days a little easier and comforting them in their time of need. Whether it’s answering the door with a smile, visiting with their therapy dog, or cooking a warm meal, volunteers are what make our House a home for families.”
While in-house volunteering is still somewhat limited due to the pandemic, at press time, volunteer opportunities included cooking for the organization’s Meals That Heal program, volunteering with your therapy dog through the House’s Pet Therapy Program, volunteering on an event committee, engaging in a Corporate Day of Service, collecting items needed from the House’s Amazon Wish List, and hosting a third-party fundraiser, such as a car wash, bake sale, garage sale, or dress-down day at an office or school.
Gilda’s Club Westchester
White Plains; cancersupportcommunity.org
Gilda’s Club Westchester has worked for more than two decades to ensure that all people impacted by cancer in Westchester, Fairfield, and Rockland counties experience the support of a dedicated community. This includes a range of free programming and services aimed at adults, children, teenagers, and families.
If you’d like to lend the club a hand, try becoming one of Gilda’s Ambassadors. This is a devoted group of volunteers helping to spread the word about the organization’s free community programming. Gilda’s Club Westchester Ambassadors distribute outreach materials to locations in Westchester, Rockland, and southern Fairfield counties; represent the club at community events; and assist club staff by answering questions about programming and sharing their own cancer experiences as part of the organization’s “Gilda’s on the Go” events.
The club also runs Corporate Volunteer Days of Service, during which companies can build team bonds while demonstrating commitment to their communities. Sample days of service include cleaning and organizing the club’s art room, spring planting, helping out with its supply drive, or even hosting a meal for clubhouse members.
Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital
Caring for roughly 30,000 kids each year, Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital is an academic center and research hub that trains generations of pediatric specialists. While they are at the forefront of stem-cell transplantation care and house the Hudson Valley’s only pediatric intensive care unit and regional neonatal intensive care unit, it is the help of volunteers that aid in these many achievements.
Opportunities include becoming a Caregiver Partner, in which volunteers work with patients’ families and friends, providing assistance with hospital and community resources, navigating hospital systems, or providing emotional support, as well as clerical volunteering, in which individuals support hospital staff by assisting with duties on nursing units, in the volunteer office, and other areas. Fareri also offers a Discharge Meal Program, where volunteers can unpack food, stock shelves, and assemble meal bags for food-insecure patients.
The hospital’s Child Life volunteering allows individuals to assist in activities with pediatric patients, such as arts, crafts, playing, and reading, while Fareri’s Library Cart Program lets volunteers help patients and their family members select books and magazines. Musicians are also welcome to donate their time and talent to brighten the lives of some very deserving kids.
Sometimes great art and a great cause go hand-in-hand. Look to one of these big-hearted organizations for opportunities that prize volunteers’ creative streaks.
Clay Art Center
Port Chester; clayartcenter.org
This nationally recognized nonprofit is at the forefront of ceramic art, with a gallery featuring a rotating exhibition of sculptural and functional works, a celebrated shop offering pieces by national artists, as well as on-site workshops, classes, and demonstrations. Volunteering opportunities include a special-events program, when the CAC needs volunteers to aid in planning and helping out during occasions like benefits, gallery openings, and pottery sales, as well as volunteering for fundraising events, annual appeals, and other avenues that help support the center’s mission.
The Clay Art Center also offers PR and marketing volunteering in addition to a graphic-design program, where volunteers are invited to create flyers, brochures, or graphics. Additionally, CAC welcomes website and IT volunteers to work on its website, online store, and database, along with studio volunteers to help organize and maintain art spaces, including the kiln and glaze rooms. The center also features the program Clay Volunteers, in which students or clay artists can donate their time to be a teacher’s assistant for a children’s class, clay party, community arts class, or community festival.
White Plains; artswestchester.org
As the county’s foremost organization supporting the arts since 1965, this White Plains nonprofit can use a little support itself in the form of eager volunteers. For students, internships are almost always available for special projects, administrative work, and class credit (be sure to check availability).
Volunteers with a career in the arts can also join an ArtsWestchester Panel, which comprises a diverse group of professionals with varied specialties, or become a special events volunteer and assist with ArtsWestchester’s fundraisers, including the annual gala. Special events volunteers can help as raffle ticket sellers, auction assistants, gift-bag stuffers, and more.
Looking for something a bit more creative? The nonprofit’s Arts Ambassadors Program invites volunteers to observe and participate in the support of ArtsWestchester’s programs, cultural activities, and events throughout the county. Finally, volunteers can even choose to serve as gallery attendants and ushers, interacting with visitors and providing insight about exhibitions, all while enjoying the work of world-class artists.
Those with a vehicle and a little free time can do a lot of good for disabled, ill, and elderly Westchesterites, giving them a ride to medical appointments, a grocery store, or just delivering a much-needed meal to their doors.
This nonprofit is part of the Katonah-based Family Services of Westchester, and it works tirelessly to find quick and cost-effective transportation options to meet the needs of older adults in southern Putnam and Westchester counties. Volunteers help deserving seniors do everything from see a hairdresser or get groceries to visit friends and attend community events.
Volunteers can choose when to help out and how often at Ride Connect’s website. Applicants only need a reliable car, valid driver’s license, a good driving record, and a little bit of time and compassion. In return, they can rest easy knowing they are helping out a few truly deserving people.
Meals on Wheels
Just over the river, Meals on Wheels Rockland is doing a whole lot of good, serving 209,058 meals in 2020 alone, and more than 10 million in its history, to individuals throughout the region, including Westchester. Meals on Wheels is always looking for volunteer drivers to deliver food and offer greetings to homebound senior citizens, among several other needs.
The organization has youth and family opportunities, as well as group-volunteering options. These include home deliveries that can be conducted by the entire family, commissary assistance in Meals on Wheels’ kitchen, and the construction of Blizzard Boxes, an emergency food program to insure that homebound recipients have a supply of nonperishable food items in case of weather-related emergencies. Don’t have a car? No worries. Volunteers can also sign up to make cards for homebound seniors who may be feeling a little lonely during the holiday season.
Mount Kisco; westfairrides.org
Since 2011, this Mount Kisco-based collaborative nonprofit with a big heart has been managing ride choices for older adults and individuals with impaired vision in Westchester. With enhanced safety precautions, including wearing face masks and gloves, as well as wiping down walkers and canes, Westfair Rides is just as active post-pandemic as it was prior to it. Drivers can sign up to volunteer for as much or as little time as they’d like at Westfair’s website. Drivers must have a valid license, auto insurance, and be at least 21 years of age.
Help the Hungry
If you’re looking to stamp out food insecurity in Westchester, check out one of these two local organizations working hard to feed the needy.
This Westchester-based, all-volunteer organization encompasses more than 500 individuals rescuing excess or unsold food from donors, including supermarkets, caterers, wholesalers, farms, and many others, which they then deliver to area food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters. Since 2009, County Harvest has rescued more than five million pounds of food, all without a physical office, warehouse, or paid staff.
As such, food-rescue volunteers are vital to County Harvest, which welcomes recurring or occasional commitments to food-rescue runs. Volunteers can even use one of County Harvest’s vans should they not have their own vehicles. DeCicco & Sons, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Fairway Market are all County Harvest partners who understand that with a growing population of hungry children, families, seniors, and veterans, County Harvest is a superb way to make a powerful difference.
The county’s leading nonprofit hunger-relief organization, Feeding Westchester operates a network of nearly 300 partners and programs with the single mission to end hunger in the region. Feeding Westchester counts on volunteers to source and distribute food and additional resources throughout the county and has delivered more than 20.4 million pounds of food (or 17 million meals) through pantries, soup kitchens, schools, shelters, residential programs, and mobile distribution points over the past year alone.
When it comes to volunteering, Feeding Westchester is a veritable smorgasbord. Volunteers can donate their time to raise funds for the nonprofit, pack food, or even help from the comfort of home. Feeding Westchester also welcomes those looking to complete community service, court-ordered time, or community engagement. After a quick registration on the nonprofit’s website, volunteers can sign up for shifts at area pantries and kitchens.
Animals in Need
Those with a soft spot for cuddly creatures will likely find plenty of opportunities to lend a hand at one of these laudable organizations.
Humane Society of Westchester
New Rochelle; humanesocietyofwestchester.org
This New Rochelle nonprofit may have limited options due to the pandemic, but that’s not slowing them down. They now have a virtual volunteering program to enable individuals of all ages and from all areas of the country to volunteer time to help the society’s animals. People can also volunteer to foster a pet, providing a homeless animal with the extra time and attention they need until they are ready for adoption.
This compassionate animal-rescue organization recently revamped its volunteer program, with increased guidance, orientation, and safety enhancements. After a general orientation, tour, three completed rescue assisting hours, an online dog and cat orientation, and work with a mentor, volunteers can begin socializing cats, walking dogs, cleaning, serving as adoption greeters, and helping with events, fundraising, and property maintenance.
There are many other volunteering opportunities in the county that deserve your time and attention. Here are some that fight the good fight every day and would love to have you join them.
Volunteer New York!
If there could be a one-stop shop for all things volunteer in Westchester, this would be it. Volunteer New York! serves as an advocate and nexus for area organizations doing humanitarian work. In the last year, Volunteer New York! mobilized more than 35,000 volunteers throughout Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties, contributing roughly 400,000 hours of their time. A 2021 COVID-19 vaccination drive recruited 1,300 vaccination-site volunteers to help administer 300,000 shots.
While those hoping to do some good deeds can find many opportunities on Volunteer New York!’s website, the organization also hosts and conducts its own events. This includes its MLK Day of Service, when the organization engages local volunteers through community-wide projects designed to bridge barriers and strengthen communities. Additionally, Volunteer New York! empowers Americans over the age of 55 to serve their communities with its 50-year-old program, RSVP of Westchester. In-person projects include constructing no-sew blankets and laundry sachets, supporting literacy and math programs, hosting virtual webinars, and more. Volunteer New York! also operates a summer reading program and an annual event to commemorate 9/11.
My Sisters’ Place
White Plains; mspny.org
Coming to the aid of women across our county, My Sisters’ Place works to end domestic violence and human trafficking by providing confidential supportive and legal services, free education, and outreach services. Advocacy and community education are at the core of the organization’s mission. Its annual backpack drive encourages locals to help collect and assemble backpacks of school supplies for some very needy local kids, also offering plenty of virtual volunteering opportunities for those who want to lend a helping hand in a safe setting.
The Children’s Village
Dobbs Ferry; childrensvillage.org
With a mission that has never relied on shortcuts or easy answers, The Children’s Village in Dobbs Ferry has worked since 1851 to help heal the orphaned communities of New York. Volunteers and donors to The Children’s Village offer support to these kids and teens where government assistance may fall short. Foster homes, family assistance, juvenile justice, and mentoring are some of the ways The Children’s Village supports the orphaned youth of Westchester County and beyond. As a volunteer, you can help this community by acting as a mentor, tutor, or even just by being a good listener. Volunteers are expected to serve as positive influences by respecting the life experiences of this vulnerable community, staying patient when dealing with challenges, and keeping the mentees smiling. No matter what kind of volunteering you choose to participate in at The Children’s Village, you will likely leave each day with a smile on your face and purpose in your heart.
United for the Troops
Shrub Oak; unitedforthetroops.org
With the sole mission to make life a bit easier for men and women serving in the U.S. military, this local organization collects food, money, and goods to aid troops. Its primary means of supporting military members overseas is through sending care packages of items that soldiers say they “miss most” when on deployment.
United for the Troops encourages volunteers to include handwritten letters, pictures, and cards in the care packages they send, which can be composed using a helpful checklist on the nonprofit’s website. This year alone, United for the Troops plans to send roughly 10,000 letters and cards to soldiers. Plus, breaking out the construction paper and crayons to compose cute thank-you letters to troops is a fun family activity to boot.
Health Through Selflessness
Volunteer work can be good for more than just your conscience — it can also benefit your health and longevity.
Multiple longitudinal studies have shown that volunteerism by seniors is a worthwhile investment in their well-being and longevity. Not only are non-volunteers over age 70 three times more likely to die than volunteers of the same age, volunteering has also been shown to decrease the likelihood of hospitalization in those over 55 and either reduce or prevent high blood pressure in those over 50 who volunteer regularly.
One study found that those suffering from chronic pain experienced both declines in pain intensity and decreased levels of disability and depression after serving as peer volunteers for others also suffering from chronic pain. (Arnstein et al., 2002)
A study at Duke University found that people suffering from post-coronary artery disease who volunteered after their heart attacks reported reductions in despair and depression. Additionally, these individuals reported a greater sense of purpose in their lives. (Sullivan and Sullivan, 1997)