Photo courtesy of OUR Center

Volunteering Along the Front Range  

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Mike Evanoff, a retired electrical engineer and data scientist from northern Virginia, moved to Boulder in 2020 after visiting the city on business. Volunteering has long been in the DNA of this former Navy commander: He volunteers for the Veteran Community Project in nearby Longmont and you’ll often find him hammering nails, sweeping floors and caulking at Habitat for Humanity affordable housing projects.

Some weekends, he’ll volunteer at events, such as the Venus de Miles, Colorado’s original and largest all-women’s bike ride, and this summer he will be a driver for a cross-country paragliding event.

“Volunteering introduces me to people I wouldn’t normally meet, helps me learn new skills and educates me about Boulder, which is an athletic city that perfectly matches my interests,” Evanoff says.

Giving back is a great way to meet new people and learn more about your community, whether you just moved here or you’re a long-time resident.

And if you’re visiting Colorado on vacation, volunteering side-by-side with locals — a practice known as “voluntourism” — can provide insight into the best places to hike, bike, eat or simply enjoy the scenery from a new vantage point. You get to make the world a better place through your time and dedication on the road.

Voluntourism opens the door to new people and experiences; it helps you experience different cultures and help improve the lives of others. It doesn’t require great strength, wealth or connections.

And for flatlanders, there’s the added benefit of acclimatizing in Denver or Boulder, altitude 5,280 to 5,600 feet, before traveling 4,000 to 5,000 feet higher further west in Summit County (which isn’t called “Summit” for nothing).

Volunteering in Boulder, Denver or anywhere else in the Centennial State isn’t necessarily time-consuming either. The time commitment is totally up to you.

You can play an important role volunteering for a few hours, a day, a few days or a week, while your good deed gives you a Rocky Mountain high. If travel expands the mind, meaningful travel expands the heart. You’re not going to save the world. In fact, you’re likely to learn and gain more from your volunteer experience than you give.

Houston real estate developer Joe Watson, a committed voluntourist, sums it up simply, “Voluntourism sure makes traveling more interesting and meaningful and you have better stories when you get home.”

Here’s how to get started volunteering along the Front Range — and some inspiration for how you can help.

First Steps

Looking for a new way to give back in Boulder, whether on vacation or in your everyday life as a local? There are two website resources that can help you get started.

VolunteerMatch.org believes everyone should have the chance to make a difference. To that end, the website makes it easy for good people and good causes to connect. Since 1998, the service has connected 17 million volunteers to 137,000 organizations.

A recent search on the site turned up 1,246 volunteer opportunities in Denver and 709 in Boulder. Prospective candidates enter their preferred city and select from one of 30 specialized skills to offer, ranging from Children & Family, Sports & Recreation, or Computers & IT skills to Academics, Performing Arts, and Trades.

You dial in your dates, select your Colorado city, and sit back as opportunities are presented.

GreatNonProfits.com is yet another matchmaker linking non-profits with volunteers. It will help you find those with the best reputations, dozens in fact, from Cozy Coats for Kids to the Rocky Mountain French Bulldog Rescue,

Some non-profits require a longer commitment than others. A few that involve dealing with children will require a background check and specialized training. Still, there are plenty of simple drop-in opportunities available with flexible schedules.

Where to Volunteer in Colorado

Habitat for Humanity: This international nonprofit builds homes, revitalizes communities, responds to disasters, provides financial education and helps seniors renovate their homes, among other efforts.

Habitat for Humanity’s overarching goal is to “build strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter,” according to the organization. Volunteers can help the organization build or repair homes — and you don’t need to be a superstar with tools to participate, either, as Evanoff learned.

“I don’t have serious handyman skills,” he says. “I have done work around the house, but never professionally. Habitat for Humanity site managers told me exactly what to do.

Volunteers can also help unload trucks, stock shelves and price inventory at Habitat for Humanity ReStores, which are home improvement outlets that sell new and gently used appliances, furniture, cabinets, building materials and more at discount prices. All proceeds go toward affordable homeownership programs. Learn more at habitat.org.

Photo courtesy of VOC

Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado (VOC): Join a veritable army of volunteers passionate about maintaining Colorado’s outdoor environment. Volunteers for Outdoor Colorado is a statewide non-profit volunteer organization founded in 1984 that engages thousands of people to provide a volunteer workforce for recreation and habitat improvement projects in partnership with land agencies, non-profits and community groups.

These projects take place across Colorado — from city parks and open spaces to grasslands and foothills to alpine meadows and peaks. Volunteers seed hillsides after fire, reconstruct trails damaged by flood, remove invasive species and create new trails that can withstand heavier foot and bike traffic.

A handy online calendar allows volunteers to plug in their preferred volunteer dates between April and October and the type of work they’re prepared to perform. You can even select an activity according to physical difficulty, from easy to difficult. Learn more at voc.org.

The Boulder International Film Festival (BIFF): Depending upon your travel schedule, think about volunteering for a day or so at one of the dozens of events that have resumed as the pandemic has eased. BIFF is practically run by its dedicated volunteers. Commit to 10 hours and receive full volunteer benefits including ticket vouchers to movies, BIFF t-shirt and badge, access to the virtual cinema, and additional perks throughout the season. Learn more at biff1.com.

BOLDERBoulder: This annual Memorial Day race needs plenty of volunteers. Schedule your trip over the holiday and help run the 10K race – at over 54,000 runners, walkers, and wheelchair racers, it’s the second-largest 10K race in the U.S. and the fifth-largest road race in the world. You’ll receive a BOLDERBoulder VolRUNteer shirt, snack bag and a front-row seat to all the action. Learn more at bolderboulder.com.

Ocean First Institute (OFI): Based in Boulder, OFI offers educational programming, research and conservation projects that enable young minds to explore marine science and innovate new ways to understand and protect the ocean.

Volunteer coordinator Skye Whitney says: “Most of our projects involve being around minors so we have to get background checks for each volunteer prior to them working with us, which can always take a little bit to process and clear. They are also somewhat intensive projects that require training, commitment and consistency from our volunteers.” Learn more at oceanfirstinstitute.org.

OUR Center: The OUR Center, a non-profit in Longmont, assists individuals and families in the St. Vrain Valley in need of meals, groceries, clothing and financial resources. The OUR Center seeks enthusiastic individuals 16 years of age and older wishing to volunteer their time and talents. The non-profit could use helping hands in the kitchen, food pantry, warehouse and clothing bank. Get started by completing a volunteer application and attending an orientation session. Learn more at ourcenter.org.

Photo courtesy of Thorne Nature Experience

Thorne Nature Experience: Founded in 1954, Thorne was one of Colorado’s first environmental non-profits. All told, the organization has connected more than 300,000 young people and adults to nature.

Volunteers and interns play a critical role in the success of Thorne’s programs and are involved at every level of the organization, from providing general administrative support to teaching programs and serving on the Board of Trustees.

With proper training about birds, water insects, land insects or mapping — and a deep personal connection to nature— you can become a teaching volunteer at Thorne’s Boulder or Lafayette locations, or help out on field trips.

“Be sure to call first to make sure you’ll be a good fit,” says Sarah Grove, volunteer coordinator and environmental educator. Learn more at thornenature.org.

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