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Traveling To Volunteer: Closer Than You Think

Do you travel to volunteer? Many people think traveling to volunteer (volunteer tourism, voluntourism) tends to occur within an international context. However, volunteering while traveling happens on a regular basis within the national space, such as for sporting events, conferences, or post-natural disaster relief projects.

Not long ago I traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota with Tourism Cares. I volunteered to assist with invasive plant removal and tree plantings in the Mississippi Natural Recreation Area to help celebrate the 2015 US National Park Service Centennial Anniversary. Because I traveled from Phoenix to Minneapolis, I fell under the category of traveling to volunteer.

I would like to change the perception that traveling to volunteer activity does not include national volunteering. But that, in fact, does! In particular, within the countries of USA and Canada, where TTV is working at curating volunteering opportunities for leisure and/or business travelers in these nations. But more than this, I want people to understand that within the space of volunteering, deep connections are made not only to the physical environment you are volunteering in, but with the people you meet. 

Do you travel to volunteer? 

Volunteers: Quiet Heroes on the Front Lines

“Black Chen, a 30-year-old tattooed bar owner, had never volunteered before the coronavirus outbreak hit his hometown of Wuhan, but he quickly stepped up. … [These volunteering] acts are personal, like a young woman who handed out masks to street cleaners and a mom who hired a helicopter to fly in supplies.” (February 24, 2020, TIME).

It is utterly heartwarming to read about how young Chinese resident volunteers are helping to ease the burden this COVID-19 outbreak is having on their local community and family members. In addition to these examples, there are countless other stories of young (and any-age) people quietly “doing good” throughout this humanitarian crisis that remain unknown. What should be noted from the article, is how this crisis has spurred on a new generation of volunteers who are are ready to take the torch of volunteering from older generations, particularly when their older-age counterparts are incapable of volunteering themselves.

As we rightfully praise and thank these young crisis volunteers for putting their health on the line, let’s be careful to not forget about, or thank, the any-age volunteers who regularly help manage our global, national and local community programs/events throughout a given calendar year. The tasks volunteers sign up for that are not particularly fantastic, or remarkable in any way. Or thank the people who volunteer for a once-in-a-while activity, such as helping to run a festival, sporting event, or a large-scale corporate occasion. These are the types of events that encourage community celebration and connectivity, enriching our lives.

Regardless of how many hours volunteers sign up for, volunteers are the ones who provide tremendous support to nonprofits and for the functioning of a large number of community events. Without volunteer help, many nonprofits, for example, would simply not exist. Volunteers are typically the first ones to work on a natural disaster response team, sign up to help run/manage a leisure event at home or afar, or make themselves available on a regular basis for their favorite charity. These unsung heroes quietly volunteer to make in a difference in their community when no one is looking.

Given that many volunteer acts go unnoticed, we’d like to change this. Please reach out to us through email, or a comment below, indicating you know of a volunteer who has traveled to volunteer, or who volunteers for a fantastic nonprofit in your local community. Perhaps it is you (and this is okay!). We’d like to feature their (or your) volunteering story on the website and on our social media outlets. Thank you quiet volunteer heroes!

Afraid to Travel?

You don’t have to read very far, or watch the news too long, before you are struck with headlines associated with the corona virus. This fast moving virus has been trending for several weeks, and many fear the worst is yet to come. The largest industry on the planet (known as the travel industry) is bracing to take a hit due to concerns about virus transmission and spread. Particularly because of confined space in the airplane and train cabins. While travel, for many, conjures up images of idyllic sand swept beaches and bustling urban cultural centers, these vacationing pleasures may soon be cast aside as the population places more priority on their health and wellness than flying away to an exotic land.

It has been argued that people are panicking for no real reason. Traveling, for example, has always had its risks – not only related to health, but in terms of crime or weather for example. This is true. Yet, how can a person prepare for a long awaited vacation if they are booked to travel, particularly internationally, within the near future? I know I am personally thinking about this as I am set to travel internationally in less than 3 months – with the intention to volunteer while stopped in a few destination cities.

  1. Decide if traveling is worth the health risk. First, consideration must be made for your final (or multiple) destination(s). But perhaps often overlooked is the transportation carrier you will use to get there. We’ve seen the horror stories associated with the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantine and many people have been scared off from booking or stepping foot on a ship (even though I am am using this medium to go from one destination port to another at the end of May). While I am not concerned at this point about virus transmission while on route to (and back from) my port destination and the ship environment itself, I am vigilant in keeping informed about what might happen from now and until then.
  2. If you decide to go, know your Plan B. If you do decide to embark on your trip, know what your Plan B is all along the way. Often people are stressed and worried because they do not plan for the “just in case.” No one wants to be quarantined in a foreign country, for example! But if this highly unlikely scenario arises or you find yourself stranded in another place, knowing you have extras of your life-sustaining medications with you, for example, is helpful by lessening the stress of the situation. When I travelled to Tanzania three years ago for a total of 6 weeks, I took a small suitcase full of snacks/meal replacements my body is used so I could ease into the local food scene. Knowing I had access to my tiny store at any time was tremendously comforting to me!
  3. Always stay updated on current affairs on several news outlets. Before, during and after your trip, you should always keep updated as to what is going on. This means reading and watching several news channels! While you may have a favorite news channel or outlet, it is wise to read/watch information from several sources. I always check multiple sources of information (with priority given to reputable sites) because this alleviates possible bias and helps me form a better perspective as to what might “really be going on out there.”

While it is near impossible to avoid any risks associated with living/visiting any community, (local crime is real, for example) a person should be aware of world events and take proper precautions to be as safe possible. Being aware and prepared is a good way to navigate a community crisis, particularly with a global health epidemic tracking across the world. Risks are something we should all prepare for regardless if we are traveling in the near future or just staying home.

Loving People Without Homes

Homeless. What image does this word produce in your mind?

I personally do not like the word homeless. To me it more-likely-than-not conjures up a stereotypical image that is not kind to the person who finds themselves in this position. What I have used to describe people in this position is “people without homes.” But really, does it matter what term is used? I think so. It matters because of how a term can draw us towards how well we love our neighbors during their time of crisis or is the catalyst to push us further away.

So how do we love people without homes while they are transitioning from this state to a place of permanent residence? Here are some emotional and tangible ways one can consider that is really based on how you well you think and respond to them.

  • Respect. We all want to feel respected at any stage of our life journey. Often times people who do not have a home, are viewed differently. I’m not talking about the people who formally intervene on their behalf, but by some public members in general. Lazy. Unclean. The ugly labels are plentiful. Often times a person who is judging or disrespecting a person without a home, has not taken the time to educate themselves about the issue of homelessness. Many people without homes are employed, for example, and find themselves living in a car because affordable housing is not within reach. Instead of thinking about how “these people” should work harder to provide a way to support themselves, a major mind shift is needed in the area of respect for many citizens who find themselves in this disadvantaged situation.
  • Response. How do you respond to a person without a home on the street? Disgust? Compassion? Giving them with a sandwich? Emotional responses to people in need are closely linked to respect for them, but also are an enhanced reaction. Many cross the road to avoid a person without a home begging for change on a sidewalk. Others feel moved enough to toss a few coins or buy them a bagged lunch. What is the most loving way to support them? During a recent tour of the Human Services Campus in downtown Phoenix, we were told the best way to support people without homes, is to direct them to services that will address all aspects related to their situation. But this should be done with care, for their safety and yours, knowing that many times its best to call a professional who can get directly involved with their needs.
  • Connection. If the situation is stable, we think a wonderful way to love people without homes is by developing a connection with them. How can a person do this? One way is to connect with them through a traveling to volunteer service opportunity. TTV is currently working hard in curating opportunities for travelers and this list will continue to grow. However, on a day-to-day basis, you can look people in the eye as you hurry down your busy street, say hello to someone looking for change, and strike up a conversation with someone who may need a little attention. Putting the “human” back into the “humanitarian” crisis and relief is sorely needed, and can be easily done as it doesn’t take much effort to connect this way!

Thinking through your actions and developing your healthy thoughts towards individuals (and families) who are temporarily without a place to call their own is the best way to love them. Because, we are all really one situation away from being a person without a home. And, we would also appreciate all the respect, the best responses and individual connection directed towards us if we were in that position ourselves.

“Super” Volunteering: Sporting Events

Who out there is a sports fan, in particular, a football aficionado? If so, perhaps you have volunteered for a sporting event, or was keen enough to travel to volunteer for one? According to news reports, over 10,000 people sign up to volunteer for festivities related to the top American football celebration (Super Bowl!) each year, and this year’s Miami Super Bowl LIV is no exception.

But not all volunteers are local. While most Super Bowl volunteers are from the host city and surrounding areas, many come from other US (and global) communities. Unfortunately we do not have the percentage of (10,000) volunteers who travel to give freely of their time/resources, but we know there are plenty. We noticed on recent Miami Super Bowl Host Committee Facebook posts* that several commenters, who had signed up to be Super Bowl volunteers, appeared to be from out of town. Of these, quite a number of them looked to be repeat Super Bowl volunteers as well.

So what does this all mean? It might mean you are surprised to know that traveling to volunteer may include this thematically-relevant category of sports-event-volunteering. Or it might mean you question why people would pay to fly, stay, and take time off from work to volunteer for such an event in the first place. Regardless of what it might mean to you, this is what we do know. It takes an army of dedicated volunteers to run such a mammoth event, and not all cities have the capacity to provide a workforce of volunteers of this magnitude.

Perhaps you might be astonished to find out this large-scale nonprofit (yes, the NFL is technically a non-profit organisation) provides short-term volunteering opportunities in every hosting city for a few weeks prior to the big game. #giveback. big time. It’s their mission to make sure the cities that host this game benefit from other aspects related to the event, outside the infusion of $$ the event will generate) such as promoting local environmentally-related social projects too. All good stuff.

Next time you are thinking if you might get involved in a sports-specific traveling to volunteer experience such as the Super Bowl, or are simply relaxing and enjoying the big game, imagine all the volunteers that had contributed freely to the event. The ones living there. The ones who travelled to do so, and the ones who’d volunteer to do it over and over again. Ponder on how many volunteering hours that went into the organising and hosting of the give-back experiences. The ones that occurred weeks prior to, and the week of, to benefit the host city and area.

Maybe you are planning to volunteer the next time or maybe you already have. We’d like you to let us know what it was like for you! Drop us a comment below and tell us. AND. Tell us if you’ve volunteered for another sports-related volunteering opportunity, or are planning to do so. Can you now say #iamthiscommunity because you traveled to volunteer for a sports-related event? We hope so!

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*Note: One has to join the Facebook Group to view the Facebook posts. The link provided is to the general website where you can opt into joining Facebook and/or the Group to view the comments.