For those seeking ways to help beyond monetary donations, volunteering opportunities offer a feel-good way to aid local organizations.
By Tanya A. Yacina
Whether driven by a desire to give back, a commitment to a cause or a wish to develop new skills, volunteering offers countless benefits for both the volunteer and the organization they are assisting. And Laguna Beach is in no short supply of ways to help.
“I was born and raised in a tiny town in northeast Missouri and I only ever saw my family participating in civic life. I don’t know another way,” explains Ketta Brown, Friendship Shelter volunteer who also serves on the organization’s board. “My dad always said, ‘Ket, you need to run your traps,’ which meant ask questions, get involved [and] pay back your good fortune.”
Karen Ollila, who helps at the Laguna Food Pantry, says volunteering makes her aware that issues you read about or see on the news also need to be addressed in the local community.
“Volunteering at the pantry has shown me how food insecurity is a real thing in our community. There is a true need …,” Ollila says. “I find the pantry often reflects the current environment in our country. When inflation started going rampant and food prices increased, the number of new shoppers [at the pantry] increased.”
If you’re able to lend a helping hand in the local community, here are just some of the organizations to consider.
Several nonprofits work to protect and raise awareness about important local habitats. For example, Laguna Ocean Foundation’s Volunteer Tidewater Docent Program has more than 100 active volunteers who educate visitors about intertidal ecology and the protected marine areas. Docents, who are asked to work two three-hour shifts each month, receive a free, two-day training to be able to speak about California marine areas and then work at their choice of eight coves in Laguna Beach during low tides. Volunteers must be at least 18. For more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To get involved a bit more inland, options abound with Laguna Canyon Foundation, which helps to preserve open space and the biological diversity in Laguna Canyon and surrounding lands through partnerships with OC Parks and other agencies. The nonprofit offers short- and long-term volunteer opportunities. Short-term options require no training, but long-term volunteers gain additional expertise through orientations and site trainings as well as CPR and first aid certification. Find opportunities to maintain trails, tend to nursery plants, staff the Nix Nature Center and lead hikes at lagunacanyon.org/events. For example, roll up your sleeves Dec. 23 to help at the native plant nursery in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park; work ranges from collecting seeds to sowing seeds in flats, planting at restoration sites, sterilizing plant containers and maintaining the nursery. Most volunteering opportunities are for ages 16 and up, but those under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. For more information, contact Taylor McGrath at email@example.com.
Laguna is also home to many organizations that help our furry friends in the area. For example, The Blue Bell Foundation for Cats provides a kind of retirement home for senior felines whose owners can no longer care for them. Animal lovers may enjoy serving as “cat companions,” cuddling and spending time with the resident cats in the sanctuary’s homelike environment. Other volunteer opportunities include program support, fundraising, grant writing, cottage maintenance and cleaning of the facility and felines. Interested volunteers who are at least 18, should visit Blue Bell’s website, bluebellcats.org, or call 949-494-1586.
Those seeking to help both dogs and cats—as well as birds and other species—might want to contribute their time at the Laguna Beach Animal Shelter. The level of need within animal shelters is well known, and volunteers are integral to the Laguna shelter operations by bathing, walking and socializing animals, assisting with pet adoptions and office work and maintaining the local lost-and-found animal list. To help at the shelter, volunteers must be at least 18 and commit to a weekly four-hour shift for at least six months. During a training session, new volunteers are also educated on topics like low-cost spaying and neutering, problem behavior solving and other pet responsibility issues to share with potential adopters and other members of the public. Volunteer applications must be filled out at the shelter; for more details, call 949-497-3552.
Of course, sea-based creatures need help, too. The Pacific Marine Mammal Center is the steward of the ocean through animal rescue and rehabilitation, research and other programs. The center recently began expansion construction—doubling the size of the education and animal care space; constructing three new pools; and building a water reclamation system to reduce water usage by 90%. The center is still bringing on animal care volunteers during the project’s construction, along with opportunities to aid in community outreach, education and retail teams. For more information, prospective volunteers may contact Stephanie Gilroy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Hand Up
There are also plenty of ways to help local people, too, especially in the areas of hunger and homelessness. Almost entirely volunteer run, Laguna Food Pantry—an agent of the Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County—distributes donated food to those in need. Individual pantry volunteers pick up and sort groceries, stock shelves, greet shoppers and assist with administrative duties and fundraising. One Friday each month, the pantry receives a special food delivery that requires up to 15 people to sort, organize and put away food, as well as up to seven “strong” people to carry the lot—a great way for corporate groups to participate. Adults and high school students may donate their time here. For more information, send an email to email@example.com.
In addition to facing hunger, many in the community also struggle with homelessness. Each night, more than 300 people sleep in a shelter bed or housing unit provided by the local Friendship Shelter nonprofit. The shelter provides year-round lodging options and full-spectrum services to help homeless adults achieve self-sufficiency, while also connecting them with resources for mental and physical health care as well as employment assistance and more. Current volunteer opportunities include group projects, supply donations and property rentals, but the focus is on guest chefs at both shelter locations: Individuals work with other volunteers to create a meal to serve to the shelter residents. Children and teens may also volunteer as guest chefs and in other capacities as long as they are accompanied by an adult. For more information about volunteering, contact Megan Tambio at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kids and Seniors
When it comes to the youngest and oldest members of the community, local groups are looking out for them, too. Laguna Beach senior citizens benefit from the service of escorted transportation with Sally’s Fund. For appointments and errands within a 30-mile radius, a driver remains with the client for the duration, sitting with them in the doctor’s office or helping them in the grocery store. While the organization does utilize paid drivers, it also has the need for volunteer drivers with cars to ensure all local ride requests are fulfilled. Interested individuals must be at least 18, possess a valid driver’s license and proof of insurance; experience with older adults and a willingness to commit one or two days a month is preferred. For more information, contact Executive Director Rachael Berger at 949-235-5401.
For those looking to work with kids, whether you want to contribute a few hours yourself or want to arrange a group volunteer opportunity, the Boys & Girls Club of Laguna Beach welcomes you. Essential to the club’s day-to-day operations, individuals work with support staff to further the organization’s mission. Volunteer groups participate in special days created to support the club’s programming, as well as after-school assistance with homework, crafts, games or sports. Organizations can also create their own experience, like sponsoring a field trip to visit your place of business. Volunteers must be at least a high school freshman; those under 18 don’t need a parent present as all youth volunteers are supervised by the club’s site leaders and directors. For more information, send an email to Steve Sliwoski at email@example.com.
Arts and Literature
The Friends of the Laguna Beach Library offers volunteer opportunities ranging from helping in the library’s book shop to transitioning the butterfly and fairy garden seasonally, staffing special events and writing responses to the children who write to the fairies. The library itself also accepts volunteers to assist the county team, build patrons’ literary experience, support the ESL program, and participate in reading and crafting workshops. For more information, contact Friends of the Laguna Beach Library President Karyn Philippsen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 949-433-2630.
In addition to helping the library, there are ways to support the arts, too. Everyone loves the theater—especially when you’re a volunteer usher. Not only do volunteers at Laguna Playhouse help take tickets, greet patrons in the lobby and help these guests find their way around the theater, they also receive the incomparable perk of being able to watch the productions for free. Volunteers are required to be at least 18. For more information, contact Jules Butler at email@example.com.
Everyone has a passion for something, Brown notes, and that passion can be used to an advantage when volunteering. And, when you do get involved, your own life is enriched in myriad ways.
Nancy Goodwin, Laguna Beach Animal Shelter manager, says volunteering at the shelter makes people feel like a part of the community and a part of the solution to help unwanted animals. She says this also fosters connections and friendships with those who have similar interests.
“Laguna Beach has a variety of organizations needing volunteers, which offer opportunities to discover newfound passions,” Goodwin says. “Volunteering for different community needs helps the individual and the community in unexpected ways.”
“Volunteering doesn’t have to take a lot of your time, but you can make such a difference,” Ollila adds. “Many, many organizations that do amazing things would not be able to without their volunteers.”