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In Giving, Think Outside the Box


Volunteerism, altruism are still going strong.

Even in our current economic climate, Americans continue to seek out opportunities to give. In a report released last week by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, volunteering held steady with 26.8% of the population donating their time at least once from September 2008 through September 2009, up from 26.4% in 2008.

Whether you want to share your expertise, simply lend a hand, or are looking to be a part of a community, finding the right match can be daunting. Here are some ideas on ways to give.

1. Give at your job.

Look no further than your place of employment to find a volunteer opportunity that will suit you. Many corporations offer group outings for their employees to work together as a team doing good for others, while strengthening relationships in the workplace. Whole Foods Market (WFMI), Honda (HMC), and Credit Suisse (CS) are a few examples of businesses whose employees have donated their time and resources.

2. Give your technical know-how.

Countless communities are in dire need of a boost and Crisis Commons is an organization that has stepped in to fill the void. This tech-minded group is currently mobilizing Crisis Camps in cities throughout the country to assist the relief effort in Haiti, and you don't need to be an expert to lend a hand. "There are a lot of things to do," says spokesperson Yoav Lurie. However, high on Lurie's wish list are authorities on Ruby on Rails, Python, and geospatial technology because those on the ground feel the country has been overlooked when it comes to adequate mapping. Remote volunteers are accepted.

3. Work out your green thumb.

Get some fresh air while helping out in a community garden or do your grocery shopping if you would rather not get your hands dirty. New York City's East New York Farms is my personal favorite because of its hard-to-find produce, artwork, and good-natured vibe. "ENYF and the gardeners who sell at our market can often be found selling bitter melon (karela), scotch bonnet peppers, long beans, malabar spinach, calalloo, bok choi, and other veggies that appeal to the West Indian, Bangladeshi, and other customers who come through our markets," says Deborah Greig of ENYF. Their beehive is also a big plus. Tours are available, in addition to volunteer and internship opportunities in the garden, or assisting with fundraising, PR and special projects.

4. Prep a pet for adoption.

According to the website of the Humane Society of the United States, their Animal Rescue Teams rescued more than 10,000 animals in 2009. Animal lovers can also pitch in by preparing a pet for adoption at their local shelter. Brooklyn Animal Rescue Coalition has several opportunities with rescued dogs, cats, and other pets. When it comes to dog walking, B.A.R.C. will provide the rescued pooch, clean-up bags, route, and guidelines. Simply show up in comfy clothes and go for a stroll. My boyfriend and I volunteered there in December, taking two 45-minute trips through the streets of Williamsburg, stopping at a park along the way. My two dogs were very high-energy, while my boyfriend's were more on the mellow side. Volunteers can request a temperament they're more comfortable with.

5. Focus on homelessness.

Homelessness is at the forefront of the minds of many these days as a result of increased foreclosures and high unemployment. New York's Picture the Homeless offers several programs to assist those who find themselves in this situation. I participated in a sleep-out they held where the group spent the night in sleeping bags covering cardboard boxes outside a vacant building to bring attention to the city's housing crisis. London's housing organization Centrepoint made headlines last December when Prince William participated in a similar event. This tactic provides a way to gain a deeper understanding of the issue while raising awareness. New York City's City Harvest is a worthwhile alternative. In addition to collaborating with area restaurants for food donations, its partners include Citibank (C), Duane Reade (DRD), and BlackRock (BLK).

6. Micro-financing solutions.

If you'd prefer to make a donation, micro-financing is a solution that's becoming increasingly popular. Kiva is a leading non-profit organization that allows donors to set up accounts, read profiles of low-income entrepreneurs living throughout the world, and get progress reports. Kiva's website lists Yahoo (YHOO), Intuit (INTU), and Microsoft (MSFT) among their corporate partners donating time and expertise.
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