A Snowbird’s Guide to Volunteering During Your Winter Away
Contrary to popular belief, for most snowbirds, their time away over the winter isn’t really a vacation – it’s more of a re-location. And that means that they will go about their lives pretty much as they do at home – but in better weather!
Many snowbirds become very involved in their adopted winter communities, and that often includes volunteering some of their time to various organizations based on their interests and skill set.
Whether it's in the area of the arts, charitable work or eco-tourism, many Canadians are donating their time and experience while they are away.
Not only does volunteering enrich their lives, but for many, it is also a way of giving back to the communities that welcome them each winter. And of course, it’s a great way to meet people.
There are many opportunities to donate your time and help others both in the U.S. and internationally.
And if you’re spending your winter outside the U.S., one skill you can most certainly put to use is speaking English, as there are many volunteer opportunities to teach English abroad. You may also find local orphanages that would be most grateful for volunteers, especially if you speak a little of the local language.
Eco Volunteerism for Snowbirds
When you think of Eco-Tourism and Volunteerism, you probably think of places like the Galapagos, Iceland, the Amazon or Costa Rica. And you wouldn’t be wrong. But there’s actually an opportunity to get involved in a form of Eco Volunteerism pretty much everywhere you go - if you look for it.
This can be as simple as joining a local group that is cleaning up a park, beach, river or stretch of highway.
There are also environmental monitoring activities, like observing wildlife, and helping with plant revegetation projects.
State and national parks always need volunteers, which can be a great way to get outdoors.
And all over Florida, you’ll find many opportunities to work with wildlife and marine life and help protect coral reefs. Here’s a great article from Visit Florida on local “Voluntourism” opportunities if you spend your winter in the Sunshine State.
Charitable & Community Volunteering for Snowbirds
If volunteering for a charity or community organization is more up your alley, there are many ways to get involved in your winter community. Much will depend on your interests and causes you are passionate about, but here are just a few ideas…
- Animal Rescue - If you are an animal lover, then volunteering at an animal rescue shelter is a great idea. Even pet stores need volunteers to assist with the animals.
- Food Banks - There are plenty of opportunities to help out at local food banks and soup kitchens. You can assist with food drives, fundraising, helping out in the kitchen, serving food to those in need or office work.
- Libraries always need help assisting the public and organizing shelves.
- Assisting Seniors - Volunteer at a senior’s residence. Reading to a senior who can no longer read or just visiting seniors who have no family nearby can make a big difference in their lives.
- Places of Worship - There are many ways to get involved at local churches, synagogues and mosques. It’s also an excellent way to meet others.
- Community Organizations - Wherever you are, there are no doubt others less fortunate than you. Find out what the needs are in your community and get involved. Is it feeding children who often go hungry? Providing books and school supplies? Teaching English? A clothing drive?
Arts & Culture Volunteering for Snowbirds
If you love arts and culture, many popular snowbird destinations offer opportunities for you to volunteer at local theatres, opera houses and concert halls.
One of the best volunteer positions in the performing arts is as an usher, as you get to see a lot of the performances for free! You can also volunteer for positions in ticket sales, concessions, the gift shop or the office.
If you have experience in the theatre, you can also volunteer behind the scenes with amateur theatre companies – or even as an actor.
And if museums and art galleries are more up your alley, these institutions are always in need of volunteers in a variety of roles. Depending on your level of knowledge, you could even volunteer as a docent. As a bonus, you’ll get the opportunity to experience and learn about all the exhibits.
You can also get involved in local festivals including music and film festivals, which always need lots of volunteers.
Volunteering Ideas from Specific Snowbird Destinations
Here are just a few examples of specific volunteering opportunities that are available in some popular snowbird destinations that may give you ideas for your own community:
Social involvement by Canadian snowbirds is evident in Arizona both within the resort communities and outside the gates. There are a number of ongoing social projects and opportunities to volunteer. These include sewing backpacks for underprivileged kids and orphans, food collections for local food banks and a huge Christmas toy drive for needy children. It takes snowbird volunteerism to successfully organize and manage projects of “giving back” to their winter neighbours.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
There are many opportunities to work with the various existing charities in San Miguel which involve the arts, education, health, dental health, etc. – many of which benefit children. Teaching English is also an opportunity. For more information visit www.amistadcanada.org.
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
In Puerto Vallarta, Snowbirds volunteer for a number of local charities and hold fundraisers.
One of the largest groups is the International Friendship Club (IFC), which offers Spanish and bridge classes, yoga, meditation, film nights, home tours, etc., but whose main activity is funding a local cleft palate program for Mexican children. They engage volunteers for their many money-raising programs.
Snowbirds also volunteer at the local pet shelter and for city-beautifying initiatives such as landscaping and gardening. Fundraisers are often held for these kinds of activities.
The Florida Keys & Key West
The Florida Keys have many opportunities for volunteers to get involved in a variety of causes including helping plant coral for reef restoration if you are a diver.
There are also beach clean-ups and opportunities to help in a wildlife refuge. For more information visit Florida Key Voluntourism website.
Kissimmee & Osceola County, Florida
There are many ways to donate your time to the Kissimmee community.
Give Kids the World Village is an 84-acre, nonprofit “storybook” resort in Central Florida. Here, children with critical illnesses and their families are treated to weeklong, cost-free vacations. The Village and its community partners provide children and their families accommodations in fully-furnished villas, transportation, tickets to theme parks, meals, daily entertainment and much more. You can find volunteer opportunities at Give Kids the World Village here.
Osceola Council on Aging is always looking for volunteers to spend time with Kissimmee’s elderly residents by participating in a variety of programs.
And anyone wanting to provide a meal to locals in need can donate food or volunteer in one of Kissimmee’s food pantries or soup kitchens.
Volunteering Tips for Snowbirds
- If you are volunteering in the U.S., make sure that you are not receiving any kind of compensation for your time, as it could jeopardize your status as a visitor in the U.S.
- In some cases, only American citizens can volunteer, so make sure that the organization knows you are a Canadian.
- Volunteers often need to be screened, especially if you are working directly with seniors or children. Be prepared to do any of the following: Complete a volunteer application and waiver, undergo an online check of the Department of Justice Sex Offender Registry; provide a valid passport, and attend training or orientation sessions where necessary.