Where We’re Needed Now

 In Culture, Guide

Get involved and volunteer at the St. Louis organizations and nonprofits that need your help now.

Each year, over 600,000 St. Louisans cook meals, tutor kids, pick up trash, build houses and provide compassionate care, making St. Louis the 10th most philanthropic city in the country. It’s that kind of selfless service that is the foundation of most nonprofits. Knowing the power of these numbers, ALIVE set out to find the biggest needs in our community. Whether you are ready to help the environment or put your talents to work teaching a child, we’ve compiled a list of local nonprofits that need your help now—and we share how you can roll up your sleeves and make a hands-on difference.

Help Improve and Protect Our Environment
By supporting sustainability and the beautification of our community, you can plant the seed for our environment’s future.

Gateway Greening
First impressions count. This is just as true of cities as of people, and Gateway Greening knows that when vacant lots in St. Louis become overgrown, the eyesores affect the surrounding neighborhoods. The nonprofit’s revitalization efforts focus on civic greening, both through landscaping and through vegetable gardening. Each year it helps groups of residents establish new community gardens by providing assistance and materials to groups with a plan for improving their neighborhood’s vitality.

Why You’re Needed Now: Gateway Greening supports more than 120 community and 60 school gardens. Its busy season runs from March through November.

Roll Up Your Sleeves: If your thumb is already green, you can teach would-be veggie growers at the Bell Demonstration Garden or the City Seeds Urban Farm. If, on the other hand, you’re just starting to get your hands dirty, there are community and school gardens seeking enthusiasts—including Hodgen Elementary, Stix ECC Elementary, A Better Community Development Entity Garden, William Clay Senior Leisure Living Center and Walbridge School/ Lillian Circle Community Garden. Or you can help prepare, plant and maintain the landscaping in downtown city parks and medians as part of the Urban Roots collaboration.

Earthways Center

Promoting sustainability is the first goal of the Earthways Center, a division of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Instead of focusing on plants like the Garden does, it turns a spotlight on the built environment, especially things homeowners or renters can do to lessen the amount of resources they use in their day-to-day lives. Its educational efforts are centered around tours of the center itself, where eco-friendly adaptations appear in every room, but it also offers classes for residents on topics like raising backyard chickens and for contractors on things like how to perform wholehouse energy audits.

Why You’re Needed Now: Three words: Gulf oil spill.

Roll Up Your Sleeves: The primary role of volunteers at the Earthways Center is to act as docents during public tours and other events on weekdays and weekends. Essentially, docents serve as eco-savvy tour guides who are knowledgeable about the Earthways Center as well as resource efficiency in everyday living. If you think photovoltaic solar systems and blown in cellulose insulation are the wave of the future, this is the place for you. Opportunities are also available for those interested in helping with landscaping or in the office.

Provide Basic Necessities

Because doing something as simple as delivering groceries or serving a hot meal can often make the biggest impact on someone facing hunger or the ability to survive.

Food Outreach
Good nutrition is vital for cancer and HIV/AIDS patients, yet the diseases may leave them too weak to shop and cook. They may be too ill to work, limiting their ability to buy groceries. Medications may decrease their appetites. Depression may sap their motivation to get enough healthy food. Food Outreach tackles all those barriers by providing cooked-from-scratch frozen meals, canned foods and hot lunches to its clients. To increase their self-sufficiency, it also offers nutrition education and cooking classes.

Why You’re Needed Now: Last year, it served 399,000 meals to more than 1,600 men, women and children in the metro area.

Roll Up Your Sleeves: If you have a flexible weekday schedule or free time on Saturday mornings, grab an apron—you can help prepare, package or serve meals on select days. Cooking’s not your thing? Consider delivering meals to the clients or stocking and distributing canned goods in Food Outreach’s Nutrition Center, which, operates with volunteer manpower four days a week. The organization’s 10 staffers can also use a hand with office duties during the week.

St. Louis Area Foodbank
During the summer months, thousands of children who usually receive subsidized school breakfast and lunch rely instead on the Foodbank, the region’s largest nonprofit food distribution agency. For their parents, summertime happiness can be as simple as a box of fresh produce and other healthy but hard-to-afford items. Some of the Foodbank’s clients receive products directly, but most are served by the network of food pantries and other hunger relief organizations it supplies in 14 counties in Missouri and 12 in Illinois. Donations come in through food drives, manufacturers and the USDA.

Why You’re Needed Now: Via its network of 500 member agencies, the Foodbank distributes more than 22 million pounds of food and personal care items a year, including 2 million pounds of fresh fruits and veggies. Nearly a quarter of the donations go to St. Louis city residents.

Roll Up Your Sleeves: Who packs those millions of pounds of food for distribution? Volunteers. Sorting, repackaging and labeling happens six days a week. Volunteers are scheduled well in advance, and because the Foodbank accepts ages 2 and up, its roster of supporters includes quite a few schools, though individual adults are always welcome, especially on weekdays.

Saint Louis Crisis Nursery
Families’ need for short-term emergency care for their kids is so great that the five Crisis Nursery locations in the St. Louis metro area served 7,000 children last year. All the nurseries offer 24-hour care to children who might otherwise be at risk of abuse or neglect. Parents can entrust children from birth to 12 years of age to the professionally staffed nurseries while they deal with lack of shelter, illnesses or other crisis situations. After a couple of days, the parents typically are able to pick up their children.

Why You’re Needed Now: The economy has made financial hardships more critical for some families, but at the same time, the state of Missouri’s budget woes are causing it to cut funding to crisis nurseries.

Roll Up Your Sleeves: Because the nurseries are open around the clock, volunteers can come in at any time of the night or day to hold, rock, dress, play with, feed, read to and just hang out with the kids. No special skills are needed, just a caring nature and enthusiasm for children. However, if you do happen to have special skills that could entertain or educate children, anything from yoga to storytelling, the Crisis Nursery may be able to find a way to share those talents with the children.

Get A Step Up Towards Getting A Job

Dress for Success

Any woman who’s ever agonized over her workday wardrobe can relate to the dilemma facing disadvantaged women embarking on their professional lives. Dress for Success provides job-hunting clients one suit for interviews and up to a week’s worth of clothes when they become employed. Dress for Success Midwest, one of 106 affiliates worldwide, offers donated apparel and accessories at boutiques in St. Charles, St. Louis and Belleville under the umbrella of a local self-sufficiency nonprofit, Connections to Success.

Why You’re Needed Now: Dress for Success Midwest suits 1,500 women a year, and its Professional Women’s Group (made up of clients who’ve attained employment) has more than 100 active members who discuss workplace issues and work-life balance.

Roll Up Your Sleeves: Volunteer personal shoppers assist clients with clothing as well as job-seeking tips (e.g., how to shake hands like you mean it). But before they can work their magic, behind-the-scenes volunteers organize the boutiques and sort donated business suits, something Development Director Amie Bossi describes as “a very large task.” The month of May marked the start of a pilot mentoring program that pairs professional women with those embarking on their careers. Bossi says Dress for Success is seeking mentors throughout the metro area.

Lend A Hand To Those Less Fortunate

Whether you’re building a home for a family who has fallen into hard times or providing a safe place for a child to flourish, the power of lending a hand is limitless.

Lydia’s House
Not only does Lydia’s House provide a safe place for victims of domestic violence to stay while they secure permanent housing and employment, it offers individual and group advocacy sessions for the women and children. The women it serves can stay up to two years in the undisclosed, furnished apartments operated by Lydia’s House. It also keeps tabs on them as they leave—and 95 percent of the time, they’re going into safe, abuse-free, affordable housing.

Why You’re Needed Now: This 15-year-old organization provided transitional housing and support services to 133 women and children affected by domestic violence during the 2008-09 fiscal year.

Roll Up Your Sleeves: Because 85 of the people it served last year were children,
Lydia’s House welcomes volunteers for child care, after-school programs and tutoring. It also needs ongoing help with landscaping, yard maintenance, furniture assembly, office work, cleaning and inventorying in-kind donations.

Although public stigma of individuals with HIV/AIDS has decreased since Doorways was founded, many with the disease still struggle to afford housing and maintain their medical treatments. Doorways offers several programs to keep them from homelessness, including residential programs, direct assistance to families and a care facility for those who are no longer able to live on their own. Many of the clients are single parents; a third of those who benefit from its services are children.

Why You’re Needed Now: The CDC estimates there are more than 6,000 people infected with HIV/AIDS in the St. Louis metro area. Doorways serves hundreds of adults and children each month, both directly and through its partners across Missouri and Illinois.

Roll Up Your Sleeves: Licensed professionals in nail care, yoga, hair care, exercise, massage therapy, reflexology, support groups and more can put their specialized skills to good use here. Other volunteer needs include gardening and yard work, data entry, public speaking and hospitality work.

Neighborhood Houses
As it nears its 100th anniversary, Neighborhood Houses is going strong, with child care, summer camps, after-school activities, family support and emergency services. Programs at its three facilities in the city of St. Louis (Dignity House, Caroline Mission and St. James Center) range from health care to parenting education, thrift stores to food pantries, sports to arts enrichment activities. Its original focus on economically disadvantaged and immigrant families continues: The majority of its clients get by on an income of less than $20,000 a year.

Why You’re Needed Now: Five hundred children participate in Neighborhood Houses’ after-school programs on a daily basis.

Roll Up Your Sleeves: Its after-school programs in five St. Louis Public Schools elementaries are gearing up for fall. Subjects include academic tutoring, arts workshops and life skills; volunteers help lower the student-teacher ratio from 16:1 to 6:1. Teaching experience isn’t required, but “education background might help in dealing with large groups of children,” says Sandy Montgomery, associate director of development. If working with inanimate objects that don’t talk back is more your thing, no problem—as at any school, there’s always maintenance, building, gardening and repair work to be done. You can even create a job description that matches your skills.

Habitat for Humanity-St. Louis
Thanks to high-profile volunteers from Jimmy Carter to Jimmy Kimmel, you already know Habitat for Humanity builds houses. You probably don’t know much about the local affiliate’s role in revitalizing neighborhoods, keeping construction materials out of landfills thanks to the ReStore and supporting its partner families with workshops on finances, parenting and home maintenance. And though volunteers are a big part of Habitat’s work crews, partner families don’t get homes “for free.” They pay affordable mortgages and contribute a minimum of 450 hours of sweat equity toward their new digs.

Why You’re Needed Now: In their quest to find a home, more than 1,000 families a year apply to Habitat for Humanity St. Louis.

Roll Up Your Sleeves: The crews swinging hammers and paintbrushes are the stars of the photo ops, but Habitat offers plenty of volunteer jobs that won’t leave you paint-speckled and saw-dusty. Be the photographer, work in the ReStore, enter data in the office, provide child care to homebuyers during workshops or serve on a leadership committee—individual opportunities go far beyond construction. Learn more at volunteer orientations August 14 or September 11. Habitat also welcomes groups to get involved through sponsoring a build day, participating in team-building sessions or working in the ReStore or warehouse.

Impact the Lives of Children
The importance of a positive role model in a child’s life is profound; Studies show that a mentor can help a child gain self-esteem, achieve higher education and create stronger goals for their future.

Sherwood Forest
Summer camp can be a formative experience. Sherwood Forest offers the opportunity to attend to kids from first to 10th grade who may not otherwise get to experience camp due to financial constraints. It invites them back year after year, keeping them in touch during the school year and gradually upping their involvement at camp from a five-day mini-session for the youngest kids to two-month leadership sessions for high schoolers. Elementary-age campers attend 12-day, singlegender sessions.

Why You’re Needed Now: Whether the 500 campers who attend each year come for 12 days or a summer-long leadership session, their parents pay only $25 to $50. The actual cost is around $125 per child per day.

Roll Up Your Sleeves: If you’ve been reminiscing about your own camp days this summer, maybe next year you should revisit them as a Sherwood Forest volunteer. Applicants don’t need specific skills, but “a love of the outdoors is a plus,” according to Jenny Thumann, development specialist. A background involving canoes, kayaks or archery doesn’t hurt, either. She recommends applicants contact the camp and in early spring.

Wyman Center
What started in 1898 as little group dedicated to getting tenement kids out into fresh air is now a nationally recognized, evidence-based leadership organization that has served tens of thousands of disadvantaged teens. Wyman’s programs prepare eighth- through 12th-graders to be economically self-sufficient and break the cycle of poverty while becoming leaders in their communities. Outcomes include lower rates of high school dropouts, teen pregnancies and school suspensions. In 2008 it launched an after-school program for middle schoolers in St. Louis-area schools that drew 400 participants.

Why You’re Needed Now: Wyman is growing, preparing to expand its Teen Outreach Program to 6,000 local teens and to 55,000 teens across the nation by 2014. It’s already in 400 sites in the U.S., Virgin Islands and U.K.

Roll Up Your Sleeves: Wyman is looking to reconnect its previous participants and staff and get them involved with the teens currently enrolled in its programs. To that end, it’s seeking a self motivated, enterprising volunteer to create an alumni network. The work of finding and recruiting members to the alumni network is flexible and could be done from home—but it would involve various methods of research (Internet, phone calls, etc.).

Girls, Inc. of St. Louis
Women have come a long way in the past few decades, but growing up female still has its unique challenges. At this girl-centered nonprofit, the goal is fostering girls’ aspirations and giving them the confidence to reach their full potential. Through after-school programs and summer camps for ages 4 to 18, it teaches skills from sports to singing to computer graphics. Girls, Inc. lives up to its slogan: “Inspiring girls to be strong, smart and bold.”

Why You’re Needed Now: The national-level Girls, Inc. organization lists some of the challenges to girls growing up today, including pressure to judge self-worth by physical beauty; notions that femininity means being passive and compliant; and messages that sexual roles come first.

Roll Up Your Sleeves: Who among us wouldn’t want to be a role model of strength, smartness and boldness? Being chosen as a volunteer at Girls, Inc. is like being given an extended compliment on your character. Heading into the fall, there are opportunities with the after-school program. Check back next spring to find out what opportunities are available with summer camp.

COCA’s creative combination of arts education (500 classes!), family theatre, display space and free urban outreach programs means people from all walks of life and all ages can participate in dance, drama, music, visual and culinary arts. This is a seriously high-quality organization that still manages to have fun. (Examples of summer courses include: Circus arts. Clear packing tape as a dynamic sculpture tool. Music videos. Manga.)

Why You’re Needed Now: In 2008-2009, COCA taught 7,200 students in U. City, 4,400 in St. Louis County and 3,200 at the eight locations in St. Louis City schools.

Roll Up Your Sleeves:
You don’t have to be artistically inclined to volunteer at COCA, just enthusiastic about the arts. Supporters can usher in the theater, host guest performers, staff events, monitor galleries or work in the offices. One perk is that those volunteering before and during family shows receive reserved seats to watch whatever’s on stage once their shift is complete. There are also a number of committees that meet to advise on fundraising events, marketing, dance, visual arts and other specific issues.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri

To be a Little Brother or Little Sister means that the deck is stacked against you—growing up in an impoverished family, having a parent in prison, doing poorly in school, being the victim of abuse or living in a threatening environment. The role of Big Brothers and Big Sisters is to mentor kids ages 5 to 17 through these hardships, forming one-on-one relationships over a long period of time. One particular goal is to keep the young students in school and boost their academic performance.

Why You’re Needed Now: The organization would like to provide a mentor for every child that wants and needs one—a demand it estimates at 100,000.

Roll Up Your Sleeves: The biggest need is for a diversity of mentors. One of Big Brothers Big Sisters’ strengths is its ability to match children and adults appropriately so their relationships can flourish. Having a pool of candidates with different personalities, backgrounds, ethnicities and interests makes it more likely that a successful pairing can be found. There are also opportunities for couples or friends to co-mentor, for groups to mentor at a specific site, for organizations to offer Big for a Day programs, and for High School Bigs and college-age student mentors.

Get Involved!
Not sure which of these organizations is the best fit for you? GenNext, Fuel and Connect With all offer the opportunity to explore many organizations at once. And, because all work and no play is no fun, they sponsor networking events and happy hours for their 20- and 30-something members.

The United Way’s young professionals group provides a list of service projects each
month, and volunteers simply sign up for anything that sounds good to them. Membership is that easy.

This social volunteer group partners with community and neighborhood groups in the
city of St. Louis to ensure their one- or two-day projects and events are successful. Members are asked to sign up for at least two shifts per year, but there’s no charge to join.

Connect With …
More than 40 young professionals groups from across the metro area belong to this collaboration, an initiative of FOCUS St. Louis. Together they support one another and exchange ideas for improving the community as a whole.

Photos by Tuan Lee

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