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Okay, so Indy isn’t perfect. Nearly 20 percent of the city’s families lived below the poverty line last year, and as many as 5,000 people went homeless (while several times that many pets did). It’s enough to make you throw up your hands. Why not lend one instead? We found 66 ways to share time, money, or belongings. The only skills you really need are generosity and all-around swellness. And who knows? You might even have fun doing it.

 

Love to shop?
Get your fix by helping an unemployed woman choose the outfit that will impress her future boss.
First impressions really are everything—it takes just 10 seconds for a potential employer to decide whether you’re worth hiring, according to a recent study. Dress for Success’s personal shoppers have helped thousands of unemployed women select the perfect outfit for a job interview. These volunteers put their fashion sense to good use by guiding clients toward sensible suits and accessories like shoes, jewelry, purses, and portfolios in the local chapter’s showroom of donated, gently used (and some new) attire. “It may attract people because they love fashion, but it’s more than putting a suit on a person,” says executive director Barbara Ellsworth. “You’re boosting their confidence.” Happy hunting! 820 N. Meridian St., 317-940-3737, indydfs.org.

STATS  Unemployment rate among Hoosier women in 2012: 8.5% / Job-seeking indy women clothed by Dress for Success last year: 1,526

 

Know your wayaround the kitchen?
You can make a meal that will feed thousands of hungry Hoosiers—in one day.

Second Helpings’s volunteer kitchen assistants work with in-house chefs to prepare the 3,500 healthy, balanced meals distributed around the greater Indiana-
polis area every day. But this isn’t dumping cans of soup into vats. Depending on what’s donated, entrees can be as refined as filet mignon, and volunteers do everything from tenderizing meat to cutting vegetables. “One day our fresh macaroni and cheese might have Gouda and cheddar with chicken and carrots, and the next day that dish might be rotini pasta with mozzarella and Parmesan with beef and broccoli,” says communications director Betsy Whitmore. “Our recipes are balanced for good nutrition, but being ready for substitutions is critical.” More than just alleviating hunger, Second Helpings is a triple threat, reducing waste by “rescuing” unused food from local restaurants and grocery stores and offering job training to underemployed adults.

1121 Southeastern Ave., 317-632-2664, secondhelpings.org.

STATS  Marion County residents receiving federal nutritional assistance in August 2013: 208,007 / Meals prepared by Second Helpings last year: 678,079 / Approximate pounds of food “rescued” every year: 2 million

 

Think cleanliness is next to godliness?
Your good housekeeping habits can make a homeless shelter more comfy.

At Wheeler Mission’s four Indy-based residential facilities, care and tidiness go hand-in-hand. “It’s cleaner than my house,” says volunteer coordinator Bethany Alvis. From simple mopping to deep-cleaning a stairwell or scrubbing down a shower, housekeeping volunteers roll up their sleeves to keep the shelters in tip-top shape. Menial? Maybe. But the impact is huge. “For some, homelessness can be a very dehumanizing situation,” says Alvis. “We wish to provide locations that will be welcoming, warm, and clean, all of which can aid in someone’s desire to get back on their feet and into one of our long-term residential programs.” Folks who do chip
in can’t wait to come back. “After seeing how you’re helping, I don’t see how you
can not want to do it a second time,” says volunteer Melissa York. “You just get hooked.” 205 E. New York St., 317-635-3575, wheelermission.org.

STATS  Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention (CHIP) estimate of people who have experienced homelessness in Indianapolis this year: 4,800 / People Wheeler helped lodge in september 2013: 9,749

Got a green thumb?
You can help shape a garden that supplies fresh produce—and a lesson in healthy lifestyles—to women and families escaping domestic and sexual violence.

Providing sanctuary is the Julian Center’s first priority when assisting victims. Then what? Tending the shelter’s community gardens can be a relaxing activity for abused women and children—and it helps fill the daily salad bar. Residents “not only get great nutrition, but also an education about where food comes from and what it takes to make healthy meals,” says food-services manager Angela Wirth. Hoeing, tilling, and watering are just a few of the ways gardeners from the public can get their hands dirty. “We build garden boxes, fill them with topsoil, and do other needed things such as pulling weeds and applying mulch,” says volunteer Ron Greiner. In other words, the same stuff you do in your own backyard—except for a better cause. And Julian needs your help more than ever: It had to close one of its facilities earlier this year due to budget shortfalls. 2011 N. Meridian St., 317-941-2200, juliancenter.org.

STATS  Indiana domestic-violence victims served by residential and nonresidential programs, July 2012–June 2013: 42,207 / Women and Children assisted by the Julian Center, January–december 2012: 6,841

Wearing a pink ribbon?
You can do even more for cancer patients by helping them sign up for health coverage—or just making sure they get much-needed medical supplies and supplements.
No matter how you feel about the federal Affordable Care Act, it’s sure to have a big effect on the thousands of low-income patients Little Red Door Cancer Agency serves in the Indianapolis area every year. And from January to March, the agency needs lots of additional volunteers to help enroll people for newly available health coverage. If your opposition to “Obamacare” makes the signup effort a turnoff, you can still get involved by making home deliveries of medical supplies and nutritional supplements. It’s kind of like being an ice-cream–truck driver. Except the recipients tend to be more grateful than screaming kids. 1801 N. Meridian St., 317-925-5595, littlereddoor.org.

STATS  Percentage of Marion County residents without health coverage in 2013: 20 / Medically underserved cancer patients helped by Little Red Door in 2012: 17,289

Have to bite your tongue to keep from correcting others’ grammar?
Recent arrivals seeking refuge in our country could use your help learning English.

Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free—with more than a thousand refugees and human-trafficking victims resettling in Indiana each year, our state is making its own claim to the high-minded declaration. But for many newcomers, the transition to American life can be difficult, which is why Indianapolis-based Exodus Refugee Immigration offers English and cultural-acclimation classes to give them a leg up, covering day-to-day challenges such as completing job applications, writing checks, filling prescriptions, and reporting housing issues. New teaching volunteers participate in a day of training, and then shadow classes until they feel ready to take the reins. And they often find themselves learning, too.

“Every student has a story to tell,” says Amanda Miller, who instructs one two-hour class per week. “Never once have I been bored by a student talking about their life and what has brought them to Indianapolis.” And teachers aren’t likely to fall out of demand anytime soon: Exodus is on track to resettle some 850 refugees in 2013 alone, many from Burma, and expects to see influxes of various African groups in the years to come.

1125 Brookside Ave., Ste. C9, 317-921-0836, exodusrefugee.org.

STATS  Refugees who moved to Indianapolis, October 2012–September 2013: 1,359 / refugees assisted by Exodus in that time period: 857

 

Is your dog a good boy?
He can bring a smile to a sad kid, a lonely senior, or a hurting veteran.

Interaction with dogs has been shown to lower blood pressure and anxiety and increase endorphin and oxytocin levels. Believe it or not, though, some folks need your best pal’s affection even more than you do, and Paws & Think can put him (or her) to work as a therapy dog, employing his feel-good services at any of about 20 local institutions ranging from VA hospitals to inner-city schools to retirement homes. Thirty bucks covers the cost of a background check for you and a temperament evaluation for your pup—naturally calm canines are more likely to make the cut—and then the two of you are off to spread the love. (You can also pay $85 for three training sessions before the evaluation, if you think Rover might need it.) No pooch? No worries: The organization also enlists human volunteers to help pair shelter dogs with kid trainers at the Marion County Juvenile Detention Center. 320 N. Meridian St., Ste. 825, 317-520-2729, pawsandthink.org.

STATS  Percentage of U.S. households with at least one
dog: 46.7 / Therapy dogs enrolled in Paws & Think: 60

 

Need a place in the shade?
You can join a long-term effort to plant 100,000 new trees in Indianapolis.

Doesn’t it go without saying that more foliage is a good thing? We’re saying it anyway—and Keep Indianapolis Beautiful is backing it up. In 2007, the nonprofit launched a multiyear initiative called NeighborWoods to plant 100,000 trees in the city. The plan was motivated by more than aesthetics: In urban landscapes, trees reduce energy use by shading homes and buildings in the summer and blocking cold wind in the winter; their thirsty roots drink in stormwater and prevent erosion, improving water quality; and—take a deep breath—the leaves suck up carbon dioxide in the air and replace it with oxygen.

Pioneering studies conducted by IU using KIB’s tree data—and now being duplicated in other cities—indicate that some neighborhoods that have planted trees have also engaged in other beneficial activities such as crime watches. And Indianapolis has plenty of room for growth. “For trees to function as the lungs of the city, we need 40 percent tree cover,” says Andrew Hart, KIB’s director of urban forestry initiatives, noting that Center Township, the most densely developed part of the city, is only 13 percent shaded. With upwards of 6,000 trees expected to hit the ground next year, KIB is looking for Tree Tenders to help manage its worksites starting in March—and they’ll even send you to the DNR’s tree-steward course, which makes you the arboreal equivalent of a master gardener. 1029 Fletcher Ave., 317-264-7555, kibi.org.

STATS  Percentage of tree cover recommended by forestry
experts: 40 / Percentage of tree cover in Indianapolis: 23 / Trees planted by neighborwoods since 2007: 36,240

 

Do you Bemoan the dumbing-down of American culture?
Opportunities to help local arts organizations are available almost every night of the week—and you only have to join one group to get involved.

Indianapolis Ambassadors bill themselves as a kind of volunteer temp agency: The club chips in at arts organizations (and other nonprofits) nearly every night of the week. In the past few months, members have manned the Indiana Landmarks–hosted National Preservation Conference and ushered at Clowes Hall performances of Maya Angelou and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, to name just a few of the events. In December, the Indiana Repertory Theatre and the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre in Carmel are seeking volunteers for A Christmas Carol and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, respectively. Part social club, the Ambassadors routinely go out for drinks after their monthly meetings—proving that fun and high culture don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Individual annual membership dues: $50. indyambassadors.org.

STATS  organizations listed in Indianapolis Arts Council directory: 384 / Current Ambassadors membership: 175

 

Have time to make a phone call?     
An older adult living independently would enjoy hearing a friendly “hello.”

One of the guiding principles at the Albert & Sara Reuben Senior and Community Resource Center, part of the Jewish Federation of Central Indiana, is that older adults prefer to stay put. “I’m not bashing nursing homes, because there’s an important time and place for them,” says director Lori Moss. “But most people would rather be at home.” And in cases where seniors are without family or live far away from them, volunteers can be part of a helpful network that supports independent living. That might mean something as simple as checking in with regular phone calls. Providing a lift to a doctor’s office. Pushing trash out to the curb. Assisting with the care of a pet. And sometimes, says Moss, “It’s just nice to have a friendly visitor. Living alone, if no one calls you, you might not speak to anyone all day.” 6905 Hoover Rd., 317-259-6822, jfgi.org.

STATS  Marion County population over 65 in 2012: 99,961 / Hamilton County population over 65 in 2012: 27,382 / Volunteers currently enrolled with Reuben Center to assist older adults: 15

 

Want to get out more?
Someone with a disability would like exploring the city with you.

Whether you love opera or old cars, Noble of Indiana probably knows someone who shares your interest—or is at least willing to give it a shot. The organization’s volunteers work with people who have a range of disabilities, including Down syndrome, autism, and cerebral palsy, and they routinely take outings together around Indy. Just contact the enrichment coordinator, and you’ll be paired up with a companion. “I’ve seen it happen so many times,” says Noble CEO Julia Huffman. “A volunteer shares their passion for music or art, and then the person with the disability discovers a special new talent.” But don’t worry if highbrow isn’t your thing: Huffman says two of the most popular destinations are city parks and the Humane Society of Indianapolis, though activities can be as casual as shopping or going out for lunch. 7701 E. 21st St., 317-375-2700, nobleofindiana.org.

STATS  Percentage of non-institutionalized Hoosiers who reported having disabilities in 2011: 13.1 / Persons with
disabilities served by Noble of Indiana last year: 1,594

 

Know how to belly dance? Knit? Make butter?
You can support lifelong learning by teaching a free class—and earn swag for your favorite charity, too.

Trade School of Indianapolis allows the skill-endowed to use their gifts as just that—gifts. It works like this: Volunteer teachers propose classes and, in return, ask for barter items from students who sign up. If you teach a class on cooking Indian cuisine, for example, you could ask students to bring fresh produce and spices. But many instructors also use the bartering as an opportunity to have goods donated to a preferred charity, like, say, canned veggies for a food pantry, clothes for a shelter, or books for a literacy program. And there’s no hierarchy here—anyone can teach a class, and anyone can be a student, allowing for the free flow of knowledge around the community. Various locations, tradeschool.coop/Indianapolis.

STATS  Students who have signed up for Trade School of Indianapolis courses since its founding in September 2012: 900-plus

 

Are you handy?
You can help turn a neighborhood eyesore into a needy family’s new home.

Rebuilding the Wall recruits service-minded individuals who are good with their hands to help with the organization’s mission of stabilizing low-income families—turning abandoned houses into livable homes, for example, or providing affordable auto repair and maintaining community gardens. Carpenters, plumbers, mechanics—all are needed. And white-collar types are, too: Rebuilding the Wall is looking for attorneys to help out with pro bono legal work. 3513 Hovey St., 317-925-9789, rebuildingthewall.org.

STATS  Structures targeted for demolition at inception of Indy’s Abandoned-Home Program in 2011: 1,200

 

Need some fresh air?
You can get kids out of the city—and away from their Xboxes—on character-building wilderness trips.

Camptown’s trip mentors join inner-city kids ages 5 to 18 on day, overnight, or weeklong trips to some of Indiana’s most scenic natural destinations, including Shades and McCormick’s Creek state parks, and closer attractions like Eagle Creek Park and Fort Harrison State Park. Hiking, fishing, and, of course, camping are just a few of the activities on the agenda. Director of development Ashley Craig recalls one trip this past summer, when, during an end-of-the-day reflection session, “A fourth-grade girl spoke up and shared how she thought the two-mile hike was difficult, but it taught her that if she pushes herself, she can do anything she puts her mind to.” Overcoming challenges is just one thing kids without ready access to encounters with nature learn. “Being outdoors opens children up to different opportunities, and they learn life skills that many [of us] take for granted,” says Craig. 7998 Georgetown Rd., 317-471-8277, camptown.net.

STATS  Marion County population ages 5–17 in 2012: 160,701 / Children who went on Camptown adventures last year: 3,406

 

Did you actually enjoy science class?
You can help monitor the health of our waterways by collecting test samples
from local rivers, streams, and lakes.

The Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) has long been looking after our water, but it can’t do it alone. In partnership with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the HEC trains volunteers to test the health of area water bodies by wading in, collecting samples, and looking for the presence of nitrates, nitrites, phosphorus, and various bugs. “Water Warriors” employ such nifty scientific instruments and equipment as transparency tubes, aquatic thermometers, and E. coli–testing materials, and agree to monitor their chosen waterways at least four times per year for two years. The data is then entered on the Hoosier Riverwatch website (hoosierriverwatch.com) and used for environmental study and public education, and can help guide pollution-related policymaking. 3951 N. Meridian St., Ste. 100, 317-685-8800, hecweb.org.

STATS  Pounds of toxic discharges released in Indiana waterways in 2012: 27 million / National rank: 1 / Locations monitored by Water Warriors since 1996: 1,500-plus

 

Find yourself reminiscing about the college days?

A kid considering higher education actually wants to hear your stories about late-night cram sessions and corny fraternity pranks.

An extra push is sometimes all a teen needs to change his or her life for the better—at least, that’s the idea behind the Starfish Initiative, which offers mentorship to promising high-school students. Volunteers are assigned to work with a scholar for two years, with face-to-face meetings twice a month and e-mails and phone calls during the “off” weeks. They share advice based on life experience—including their college adventures, from finding the right school to navigating the complexities of dorm life. Finding new ways to motivate aspiring higher-ed students is the ultimate goal, and pairs often develop relationships that last far past the required two years. “They truly become like a family,” says corporate-relations officer Elana Thompson. “Fifty-eight percent of our mentors stay with their scholars for four years. Many of our mentors continue to communicate with the scholars even after they enter college. And 90 percent of our graduates go on to college.” 814 N. Delaware St., 317-955-7912, starfishinitiative.org.

STATS  Indy metro population with bachelor’s degrees in 2011: 230,066 / Number of Starfish mentees enrolled in colleges in 2012: 119

 

Proud of your city?
Your hospitality at big events can help show it off—and keep visitors coming back.
The nonprofit Indiana Sports Corp. is in the business of bringing major events to the state, and it depends on volunteers to pull them off smoothly by greeting and assisting visitors at competition venues, hotels, and the airport. “Our community has a longstanding reputation for volunteerism,” says VP of communications John Dedman. “Volunteers contribute to a great experience for fans, participating athletes, and others that is hard to measure, but it is one of the things that separate Indiana from other locations.” An added bonus: Joining ISC’s efforts offers an exciting behind-the-scenes peek at what it takes to organize
marquee sporting productions—like the 2013 Big Ten Football Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium (Dec. 7), the 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Midwest Regional (March 28 and 30), and the 2014 NCAA Women’s Rowing Championship (May 30–June 1). 317-237-5000, indianasportscorp.org.

STATS  volunteers for Super Bowl XLVI in 2012: 8,000-plus / Estimated visitor spending during all ISC-hosted events: $4 Billion

 

Think you’ve got what it takes to make it on American Idol?
Leading karaoke sessions for seniors will get you warmed up.

Singing is just one of the activities that volunteers share with guests at Joy’s House, a nonprofit adult day service that provides care for individuals with physical or mental disabilities. But don’t let being overly self-conscious deter you: Games and puzzles are also popular pastimes at the center—and the focus on mental activity can be particularly helpful to those who are recovering from strokes or experiencing the early stages of Alzheimer’s. And having fun isn’t just for the benefit of the guests—it also gives their regular caregivers peace of mind knowing that loved ones are spending time in an enjoyable, therapeutic setting. 2028 E. Broad Ripple Ave., 317-254-0828, joyshouse.org.

STATS  Estimated Hoosiers with Alzheimer’s: 120,000 / daily guests at Joy’s House: 30-plus

 

Feeling cooped up?
So are the animals awaiting adoption in the close quarters of local shelters. You can make their day with a little playtime.

At Indianapolis Animal Care & Control (IACC), the city’s primary shelter, some dogs and cats spend virtually the entire day in their kennels and cages. A little one-on-one attention not only lifts a lonely pet’s spirits—it goes a long way toward reducing stress levels, which helps keep the animals healthy and makes them more attractive to adopters. Quality time with volunteers can include walks, playing, bathing, and grooming.

2600 S. Harding St., 317-327-1397, friendsofindyacc.org. Visit IndianapolisMonthly.com/give for a complete list of Central Indiana shelters.

STATS  Approximate number of animals IACC receives each year: 18,000 / Typical hours per day dogs stay in their kennels: 23

 

Think there’s no hardship in Hamilton County?
Think again. Mobile food pantries need your help feeding thousands of hungry
suburbanites.

Bustling boutiques, high-end restaurants, new houses: The other side of Indy’s northern border—home to some of Indiana’s most prosperous communities—can seem impervious to suffering. The 25,000 or so residents who experience food insecurity know differently, however. Poverty levels in Hamilton County have been on the rise in recent years, and Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana is meeting the growing demand for hunger relief with mobile food pantries. Equipped with refrigerators for perishable foods and roll-up doors for fast distribution, the vehicles allow volunteers to serve up to 400 people in two hours.

3737 Waldemere Ave., 317-925-0191, gleaners.org.

STATS  Hamilton County Median household income in 2011: $84,939 / rank within indiana: 1 / County residents with food insecurity in 2011: 25,790 / County Residents fed by Gleaners in 2012: 1,924.

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