For a year, my kids and I played piano monthly at the Santa Fe Care Center as aides serve dinner to residents of the long-term care facility. My children would have preferred going home after school, but I saw their shy smiles when people applauded their performances, and we left feeling grateful for our healthy bodies and minds.
Whenever I visit places where people are volunteering, I feel the same energy and lightness. People are genuinely happy to give of their time and themselves; often they get more than they give and gain a new perspective in their lives.
Joni Conrad-Neutra spends two hours a week making fresh, healthy food for Kitchen Angels, a nonprofit that relies on volunteers to deliver meals to people who are homebound due to disability or illness, a population she wasn't aware of before she started volunteering.
"I feel it's really uplifting to make such good, quality food," she says as she prepares a sweet potato mash paired with marinated turkey breast and risotto. "And I meet people I wouldn't necessarily meet otherwise."
In Santa Fe, it's easy to find a cause that speaks to you, whether you want to incorporate volunteering as a regular routine or an occasional contribution. You could join Conrad-Neutra, or package food for The Food Depot to distribute to organizations in nine counties that serve people in need.
We have vulnerable populations who need our support. Our city runs a foster grandparent and senior companion program that taps volunteers to do activities at senior centers and assist with one-day events, food distributions, benefits counseling and more. St. Elizabeth Shelter, a nonprofit that aims to end the cycle of homelessness, needs folks who have landscaping, clerical or cooking skills.
If you care about the environment, the Santa Fe Watershed Association hosts river clean-up days that are announced on its website or with signs posted near the river. You could help take care of our public lands through the US Forest Service or local gardening efforts at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden or the Railyard Park Conservancy. You can join Sierra Club's efforts to protect our land and water, including writing advocacy letters.
Our schools always need assistance. You don't have to be a parent of a student to get involved, and you don't have to work directly with kids to make a difference. School librarians may need help filing books or schools could use help fundraising. Check with the principal of your neighborhood school or Santa Fe Public Schools to find a volunteer activity that's best for you. You will have to pass a background check to work with students.
State museums are always seeking a range of volunteers to work with people or do solo projects, lead tours as docents, work in a gift shop or even file and repair books.
If animals are your passion, volunteers at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society or Española Humane clean animals’ cages, take them for walks on shelter property or facilitate introductions between animals and potential adopters. My son is waiting to turn 12 so he can apply to be a volunteer, and the shelters require anyone 15 or younger to have a parent participate as well. You could also open your home to animals that need foster care until they are adopted.
Santa Fe is rich with nonprofits trying to support our residents, animals, land and culture, and they count on people giving the gift of themselves to make it all work. So do a little research and find the right fit for you.