Volunteering 101: Dozens of Ways to Make Your Community a Better Place

Photo Source: The Argonaut (On Aug. 6, Venice nonprofit ALL’SWELL hosted surfing lessons for disabled or chronically ill children)

Photo Source: The Argonaut (On Aug. 6, Venice nonprofit ALL’SWELL hosted surfing lessons for disabled or chronically ill children)

From The Argonaut, by By Allie Teaze, August 13, 2014:

Editor’s Note: Starting next week, The Argonaut will regularly list local volunteering opportunities in a new feature called Volunteering 101. Send tips — including contact information, expectations of volunteers and how to sign up — or personal stories about volunteering experiences to letters@argonautnews.com.

It was one of those mornings when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, and Sue Benjamin wasn’t sure she wanted to volunteer that day at Sunrise of Playa Vista, an assisted living community near Jefferson and Lincoln boulevards that specializes in Alzheimer’s and memory-related care.

But she went anyway and ended up singing and dancing along to “The Sound of Music” with Sunrise residents for three hours.

“I had the best day there. I’m so glad I went,” said Benjamin, 56, a Westchester resident.

Benjamin has gone on to volunteer at Sunrise every week — leading arts and crafts activities, playing memory games, taking residents out shopping and, most of the time, just having simple conversations that mean the world to people. It all started last September, when she got the urge to volunteer after feeling that something was missing in her life.

“I worked at a law firm for 12 years. I was just bored. I kept thinking about things that I’d much rather be doing,” recalled Benjamin.

After some soul-searching, she went ahead and quit her job, allowing more time for volunteering.

Benjamin’s story is a special one, but Westsiders have plenty of opportunities to make a big difference in their communities without making drastic lifestyle changes.

Lawrence Carroll, 29, volunteers once a week with Free Arts for Abused Children, a Del Rey-based nonprofit that organizes volunteer-led creative programming for kids who have experienced neglect, abuse, homelessness or extreme poverty. His latest project is leading a collaborative group project to invent and depict an alien civilization, complete with spaceships and extraterrestrial superpowers.

“At the end of each program, I do a small art exhibit so kids can show off their art,” said Carroll, a West L.A. resident. “You can see the kids’ pride. It brings the art project full-circle.”

Nicole Hamilton, also of West L.A., volunteers for Heal the Bay beach cleanup and student education initiatives.

“Every time I volunteer, there’s always something awesome that happens,” said Hamilton. “I love interacting with the kids—seeing their facial expressions when they learn something new.”

For the past two years, L.A. resident Karla Vasquez has worked as a volunteer medical assistant and translator at the Venice Family Clinic, which provides primary medical, mental health and dental care for low-income and homeless Westside residents.

She recalled a patient who was suffering from diabetes-related leg wounds until he began seeking treatment and learning how to manage his condition.

“I was really happy because I could see the state of his health before, and then a positive change.

Warren Mullisen, 70, spends one day each week at the JVS WorkSource Center in Marina del Rey, part of a network of Jewish Vocational Services centers that provides job and skills training to help the unemployed, including former foster or probation youth, veterans and the disabled.

A Culver City resident who previously worked in contracts and purchasing, Mullisen teaches JVS clients how to prepare for job interviews.

“When someone comes back and says, ‘I got a job,’ and in some way I was able to help them, it’s a feel-good experience all the way around,” he said.

Mullisen does similar volunteer work at the Chrysalis counseling and resource center in Santa Monica, assists with counseling efforts at Wise and Healthy Aging in Santa Monica and spends one morning each week as a volunteer waiter at Bread and Roses Café in Venice, which serves healthy meals to homeless and low-income people in a restaurant-style setting.

“Volunteering is something you can only experience by doing,” he said. “It gives me a sense of purpose in life.”


Los Angeles WaterKeeper needs volunteers to patrol marine protected areas in the Santa Monica Bay, participate in kelp forest protection dives, track urban runoff pollution and organize beach cleanups. Visit lawaterkeeper.org/volunteer.

Friends of Ballona Wetlands needs help with hands-on restoration work in the Ballona Wetlands, including transporting plants, eliminating invasive species and picking up trash. The Playa del Rey-based group also organizes cleanups of Ballona Creek. Call (310) 306-5994 or visit ballonafriends.org.

Forte Animal Rescue in Marina del Rey finds foster and forever homes for homeless and abandoned dogs. The group needs volunteers to help with fundraising efforts, adoption days and to care for dogs that are on their way to new homes. Call (310) 362-0321 or visit farescue.org.

Heal the Bay seeks volunteers for coastal cleanups, environmental education efforts, advocacy work and assistance in running its Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. Call (310) 451-1500 or visit healthebay.org.


The JVS WorkSource Center in Marina del Rey helps unemployed people acquire job-finding skills and is searching for volunteer career coaches, case management assistants, computer tutors and administrative support workers at its 13160 Mindanao Way offices. Call (310) 309-6000 or visit jvsla.org.

YouthBuild is a Venice Housing Corp. education and training program in Venice that helps at-risk young adults (ages 16 to 24) attain life and job skills, including diplomas, through classroom instruction, construction training and community service projects. To volunteer as a program assistant or work in a mentorship capacity, call (310) 399-4100 or visit vchcorp.org/veniceyouthbuild.


The Challenges Foundation in Marina del Rey offers veterans with health issues and disabled youth the chance to experience sailing firsthand and to learn about nautical history, marine wildlife and oceanography. Help is needed with fundraising, marketing, program development and strategic planning. Call (310) 874-4233 or visit challengesfoundation.org.

Special Olympics Southern California – Westside needs coaches to help disabled athletes reach their full potential. Call (310) 458-8237 or email westside@sosc.org.


St. Joseph Center works to provide the working poor and homeless with resources to become stable and self-supporting members of the community. Volunteers are needed to assist with family, homeless and money-management services at its 204 Hampton Drive location in Venice. Call (310) 396-6468 or visit stjosephctr.org.

Habitat For Humanity offers volunteer opportunities in home construction and restoration, office administration and special event management. Donations of leftover building supplies and gently used furnishings are also needed. Call (310) 323-4663 or visit habitatla.org.


Free Arts for Abused Children helps kids who have suffered abuse, neglect, trauma or homelessness to bounce back from adversity by finding self-esteem, creativity, confidence and independence through arts programming. The Del Rey-based organization needs volunteers to lead art projects, work individually with kids and help out around the office.  Call (310) 313-4278 or email volunteers@freearts.org.

826LA teaches creative and expository writing skills for students ages 6 to 18 at its Mar Vista Time Travel Center, 1215 Venice Blvd., Mar Vista. The nonprofit seeks volunteers who can tutor students, lead creative writing workshops or assist with annual book projects. Call (310) 915-0200 or visit 826LA.org.

The Mildred Cursh Foundation provides a safe and nurturing setting for children with incarcerated parents. Volunteers are needed to help with after-school tutoring, food distribution, special fun or educational events and to help organize fundraisers. Activities take place in two Venice locations —the Vera Davis Center, 610 California Ave., and the First Baptist Church of Venice, 685 Westminster Ave. Call (310) 428-0276 or visit mildredcurshfoundation.com.

Safe Place For Youth is a street outreach, case management and drop-in center for homeless youth that operates in Venice. Volunteers are needed to help with administrative support, fundraising, running arts and music programs, street outreach support and organizing clothing and hygiene supply drives. Call (310) 902-2283 or visit safeplaceforyouth.org.

The Mar Vista Family Center needs after-school tutors, preschool assistants and arts program leaders at its 5075 S. Slauson Ave. location. Call (310) 390-9607 or visit marvistafc.org.

Harvest Home provides shelter and support for homeless pregnant women and new moms at a communal house in the Santa Monica-Venice area, helping clients achieve financial and emotional independence. Needed volunteer work currently includes babysitting, office assistance, teaching a weekly sewing class, web design work and credit repair mentorship. Groups can work on projects to help maintain the house. Email volunteer@theharvesthome.net for more information.

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica and the Boys and Girls Club of Venice need baseball, softball and soccer coaches, teen tutors and people to help run special events. Call (310) 393-9629 or visit smbgc.org to volunteer in Santa Monica at 1238 Lincoln Blvd.; call (310) 390-4477 or visit bgcv.org to volunteer in Venice at 2232 Lincoln Blvd.

Westchester Family YMCA needs help raising funds, coaching young athletes and teaching youth and adult classes at its 8015 S. Sepulveda Blvd. facility. Call (310) 670-4316 or visit ymcala.org/westchester.


Step Up on Second offers housing, vocational training and recovery services for people suffering from mental illness and needs volunteers to help prepare and serve meals, lead creative writing and arts groups, contribute professional expertise to vocational programs and even make repairs around its facility at 1328 2nd St., Santa Monica. Call (310) 394-6889 or visit stepuponsecond.org.

The Santa Monica-based Beauty Bus Foundation needs licensed hairdressers, nail technicians and makeup artists to help provide beauty and grooming services for the homebound, the terminally ill and their caregivers. Call (310) 392-0900 or visit beautybus.org.

The Venice Family Clinic provides primary medical, dental and specialty care for homeless or low-income men, women and children at various locations in Mar Vista, Culver City, Venice and Santa Monica. The nonprofit is seeking volunteer physicians, pharmacists, dentists, nurses, clinical assistants, social workers, translators and administrative helpers. Call (310) 392-8636 or visit venicefamilyclinic.org.

The Sunrise of Playa Vista assisted living home needs volunteers to lead activities and simply spend time with residents at its 5555 Playa Vista Drive facility. Call (310) 437-7178 or visit sunriseseniorliving.com.