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Helping hands
25 November 2005
by Dawn Yun

San Francisco, USA: Without hesitating, many people volunteered to help following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Indonesian tsunami and other natural disasters, and many will step up as the holidays approach.

But after the new year begins, many charities will find themselves in a familiar place: in need of year-round volunteers.

Krista Alderson is the volunteer coordinator at the Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic in Oakland, which offers free alternative-medicine treatments to low-income women with cancer.

She said the clinic can always use volunteers, including acupuncturists and massage therapists, who are willing to make a one-year commitment to volunteer four hours each month. The clinic, which has about 150 volunteers, will be opening another facility in the Mission District in San Francisco by year's end.

"With the opening of our new clinic, we will really need more volunteers," Alderson said. "And we need them year-round."

Nonprofit organizations, such as the Volunteer Center, which serves San Francisco and San Mateo counties and its affiliate, the Volunteer Center, serving Alameda and Contra Costa counties, are making volunteering easier. Each is a centralized source of volunteer information and their Web sites post content about nonprofits and their volunteering opportunities. Or, one can visit each center in person.

Another option is to create your own volunteer opportunities. This is what David Serotkin, 26, of Richmond did.

For the past month, Serotkin has posted his services as a musician under the volunteer heading on Craigslist.org.

"I thought of a unique way that I could contribute," he said. "I don't have a lot of money to give. ... I thought I could contribute my music to nonprofits during fundraisers and they could benefit."

He has his first gig 3 December performing at a benefit for We Care, a Concord organization that helps children with special needs. He has also been contacted by three other nonprofits about performing for them next year. Serotkin said he would be happy to have a volunteer gig every week in the Bay Area.

"I would love to do this as often as I can," he said. "Volunteering is a great feeling. To know that I've helped in some small part is a good feeling."

Volunteering can also be a way for people to do good for others while also doing good for themselves.

"People can learn and build skills while volunteering, which can then be added to their resume," said John Powers, executive director of the Volunteer Center in San Francisco.

Alderson of the Charlotte Maxwell Complementary Clinic said of volunteering at her organization, "One benefit is they (volunteers) get incredible training working in the field of cancer. This is a burgeoning field -- alternative health care in the field of cancer treatment. It's a great opportunity for volunteers to grow professionally. And it's fulfilling. These are women struggling with cancer, while at the same time they are struggling for housing and food. And it's very fulfilling to offer them this."

Another trend is volunteering through one's company. More companies today are giving employees paid days off each year to volunteer or are allowing them to flex their schedules to accommodate volunteering, Powers said.

Salesforce.com takes its employee volunteerism seriously: Each employee is given six paid days off a year.

"Some employees put all six days together, some do four hours a month or one hour a week," said Suzanne DiBianca, executive director of the Salesforce.com Foundation, Salesforce.com's nonprofit organization. "By volunteering, employees get a greater sense of personal satisfaction, and they get paid time off to do it, which makes it easier with everyone's hectic lives. It's a way to build teams more effectively."

More than 80 percent of Salesforce.com's employees volunteer, she said. "The reason the rate is so high is that every new hire goes through a two-day training program. Of those, half of a day is spent on a volunteer project. So on day two of their employment, for half a day they're out in the community doing something."

Family and friends volunteering together is also a trend, said Powers, who has helped parents find opportunities to volunteer with their children.

Peter Glikshtern, 36, San Francisco, and his daughter, Nina, 14, have been volunteering to deliver meals for Project Open Hand in San Francisco for a year and a half. They donate one to two hours weekly, year-round.

"We're both pretty busy," said Glikshtern, a nightclub owner. "But it's a way to set aside time every week and spend it together in a constructive, positive way. It's a bonding thing. I'm not in the role of a parent; she's not in the role of a kid. This is an activity we can do together that's on the same side of the table. It's a great thing."

Perhaps the biggest barriers to entry for year-round volunteering are the time requirements or fears that a particular job might not be something that they like, said Powers.

"I would say try it once," he said. "There are plenty of opportunities where you'll be welcome. Try a food bank, for example. They need people every single day to sort through food that will end up in the homes of people in need. Go for one day. Once you've taken that step, it really whets your appetite, and you'll find that you can carve out some time on a regular basis."