What Kind of Volunteer Are You?

Still trying to figure it out? This will help.

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If You're the Life of the Party...

Spend some time with the folks at your local nursing home. It might not feel glamorous or "important"—playing Bingo isn't exactly taking down Trump—but having fun is hugely important to our mental and physical health, especially for older people whose friends and family may have drifted (or passed) away. Making some grandmas laugh and holding some hands will make a more profound change than you think—for them and you.

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How to Get Started: Contact your local nursing homes or hospitals to inquire about volunteer opportunities. (Training programs or medical clearances may be required.) To deliver food and say hello to a homebound elder, participate in the Meals on Wheels "America, Let's Do Lunch" program (americaletsdolunch.org).

If You Don't Want to Talk to Anyone...

Photograph courtesy of @aspca /Instagram
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Sometimes you just need to go into the woods and map some geological data, or monitor some endangered seabirds, or plant seedlings for migrating butterflies. Or you maybe you just need to hold a tiny, lonely kitten till they fall asleep in your lap.

How to Get Started: Contact your local shelters to find out about volunteer needs. The ASPCA (aspca.org) works on the ground as well as on policy; help them rescue and treat animals saved from crises. PETA (peta.org) also does amazing work to fight animal cruelty; you can pitch in with a lot of it from home. Choose from a wide and interesting range of volunteer opps with the National Park Service at volunteer.gov. Of course, you can't do any of this if global warming melts the planet, so do some action alerts, too, at earthjustice.org.

If You're Pissed Off...

Put your rage to good use by offering your time to a social-justice organization or to a nearby campaign fighting to get progressives in Congressional seats. March, write letters, spread the word, be mad—these causes need your fiery energy to get through some tough fights.

How to Get Started: The Council on American Islamic Relations (cair.com) works to defend the rights of Muslims in the U.S.; advise Muslims on their legal rights, or take a workshop on fighting anti-Muslim bullying and speak at schools. Join your local Black Lives Matter chapter (blacklivesmatter.com) and follow BLM on social media to find out about actions that fight racism and racist violence. To support the Democratic fight in your closest swing district, join swingleft.org.

If You Kind of Just Want to Stay Home...

Being out in the real world all the time can be exhausting, and that's fine: there are lots of ways to be proactive from your couch. Computer work can be a lifesaver for short-staffed nonprofits, while answering calls for a hotline can even save a life. And writing or calling your representatives about the causes that are important to you is always needed.

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How to Get Started: Consider answering phones for an LGBTQ youth hotline (thetrevorproject.org) or providing support to survivors of sexual violence by phone or online (rainn.org). Volunteer Match (volunteermatch.org), a matchmaker for volunteers and organizations, has "Virtual Listings" of volunteer jobs that can be done from home. Find all your elected officials at www.usa.gov/elected-officials.

If You Have a Lot of Love to Give and You're Comfortable With the Hard Stuff…

Consider volunteering with a local hospice. This is definitely not for the faint of heart or those who are uncomfortable with silence, but visiting someone who's approaching the end of their life—either in a facility or their home—can be a powerful gift. Many terminally ill patients need to talk and reflect on their life; others just appreciate a kind presence by the bedside. Volunteers find the visits tough but rewarding—and there's probably no better way to put things in perspective.

How to Get Started: Contact your local hospice about opportunities; training is standard (and helpful). Veterans' Administration hospitals have the "No Veteran Dies Alone" volunteer program, but it can be tricky to get through the red tape; contact your local VA (volunteer.va.gov).

If You Crave Variety…

Photograph courtesy of @luzanya and @5calls/Instagram
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Take a multipronged approach to the world's problems and consider getting set up with an organization that either needs short-term volunteer help or that helps guide you through one-off volunteering opportunities with important causes. This approach is good for people with short attention spans, and for addressing urgent and constantly shifting needs as they arise (*cough* executive orders *cough*).

How to Get Started: You've probably already heard about (or have already joined—you're so good!) Daily Action (dailyaction.org), whose tagline is "Sign Up to Join the Resistance!" One text message a day with all the details you need to perform one act of resistance against extremism. Five calls (5calls.org) is similarly user-friendly. Join Volunteer Match (volunteermatch.org) for one-off volunteer opportunities organized by state and by cause; New York Cares (newyorkcares.org) is a similar service for New Yorkers.

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If You Have an Exceptionally Loving Dog…

Consider registering them as a therapy dog and then visiting children's hospitals, homeless shelters, or schools. Therapy dogs have even brought calm to people after disasters like floods or fires. In times of crisis—and especially when crisis separates you and your pet—you don't always want to talk: sometimes you just need some furry snuggles to get through the day.

How to Get Started: Your dog will need to get a health report and one or more evaluations to become a registered therapy dog. Visit therapydogs.com, tdi-dog.org, or the American Kennel Club (akc.org). The New York-based Good Dog Foundation (thegooddogfoundation.org) has a longer training program that provides even more support to dogs and caregivers.

If You Want to Make Sure Everyone Knows It's Not OK to Grab Your Pussy…

Things may get worse here before they get better, which makes now the perfect time to start (if you haven't already) giving time and energy to fight for reproductive choice and raise the visibility of sexual assault. The tasks are wide-ranging, from helping women access family-planning facilities to advocating for survivors of rape to writing letters to government officials.

How to Get Started: Sign up for user-friendly action updates from the "10 Actions for the First 100 Days" campaign conducted by the Women's March (womensmarch.com/100), help women access family-planning services by, among other things, escorting them to health facilities (plannedparenthood.org), or volunteer at a sexual-violence crisis center (find opportunities by state at volopps.rainn.org).

If You're So Freaked Out About the Impending Apocalypse That You're Paralyzed…

Whatever you do, don't stick your head in the sand (or the Netflix)—at least not for long. Identify the problem—the country is imploding and I feel powerless—and devote time and energy to taking care of yourself, so that you can fight for everyone. Meditate, exercise, bake some cookies, take a bath—whatever you need to do to lick your wounds, get strong, and fill up your energy/motivation/compassion reserves. Repeat as often as needed, and don't lose hope!

How to Get Started: Figure out what gives you healing and strength (this is often not the same as what provides pleasant distraction), and commit to doing it. Maybe you're interested in a structured meditation retreat (dhamma.org) or a local yoga class, or maybe you just need to set aside structured quiet time. Read some poems, get some bubble bath, start running—try a few things and see what lessens the despair, then go back to the top of this article and try again!

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