20 Ways To Make A Difference

When we step back to reflect on the characteristics that help define the greater Miami community, volunteerism may not be the first image that comes to mind. Most of the world envisions sun, fun and beautiful people. If you look a bit deeper, there are as many opportunities to engage with the community as there are particles of sand on the beach. Here’s a quick list to get you started.
Text by Cecilia Dubon Slesnick | May 19, 2018 | Lifestyle

#1 Passion Finding
Before you can start changing the world, you have to figure out why you want to get involved, how much time, talent or treasure you’re willing to put out and what causes you’re naturally passionate about. Do you want to help kids? Pets? The homeless? Elderly? Hands On Miami is a good start to help you narrow down the possibilities locally. But before committing to anything, visit Charity Navigator to make sure the non-profits atop your list are legit;;

#2 Get Connected
PhilanthroFest started with the goal of uniting people, passion and philanthropy. Since its inception 5 years ago, the nonprofit has helped place hundreds of volunteers, connect scores of donors with the right causes and educated not-for-profit executives on innovative outreach initiatives to help them reach their goals. This year, the organization is continuing the nostalgia theme they established last year with their “Carnival Of Dreams” festival by curating a revolving series of “Throwback To Give Back” events throughout the year to inspire as many people as possible to get involved in the community;

#3 Youth Yay!
Interested in youth-based initiatives? Perhaps you have a family and want to start showing them the importance of giving back? The Junior Orange Bowl Committee might be the right fit for you. As hosts of the world’s largest youth festival, one can volunteer at various events and competitions throughout the year — from an international tennis tournament to their annual Thanksgiving Holiday Parade;

#4 Ladies First
Calling all women ages 22+! If you’re new to Miami, or just want to connect with like-minded women who want to make a change for at-risk families in the community, then the Junior League Of Miami might be just what you’ve been looking for. Boasting over 300 members, it’s part of an international network of women, and a wonderful opportunity to grow your leadership potential;

#5 City Focus
The Miami Foundation is our community’s one-stop shop for giving. They’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that everyone can be a philanthropist. You don’t have to give millions to impact the community, although if you have millions to give, you won’t be turned away. Over the past few years, the Foundation has made headlines with their epic Give Miami Day, which last year raised MILLIONS in a single day! They also have a trio of great programs for professionals from across a variety of fields looking to make a big impact: Miami Leaders, Engaged Youth and Miami Fellows. Each one of these programs affords the opportunity to grow in heart and mind for a greater good;

#6 Mentoring Matters
After you’ve given your favorite cause $25 on Give Miami Day in November, save your pennies to buy your Christmas Tree from the Boys & Girls Club Of Miami. Their famous Christmas tree lot doesn’t just smell like angels, you’ll be playing angel, too, as your purchase helps support the valuable after-school programs the organization offers year-round. If you think you can be a part of their “Great Futures Start Here” slogan, then just head over to their website and fill out a few forms to get started mentoring a Little;

#7 Inspired Unity
Every notice that army of red jackets and khaki pants waking around Downtown? Well, those are the City Year AmeriCorps members. There are a lot of things you have to do to be one of their 187 members. However, every MLK Day, City Year hosts a BIG all-hands-on-deck volunteer day inspired by Dr. King’s belief that “everybody can be great because anybody can serve.” Normally, they pick a site to beautify and upwards of 800 volunteers come out to help. According to one staff member, “It’s an amazing sight to see, and really inspiring.”;

#8 Dinner Is Served
Founded over 50 years ago, Camillus House is a go-to staple in our community. They’ve gone from being an overnight shelter to providing life- and career-building training and extended stays for those they benefit. One of the most popular things volunteers at Camillus House like to do is serve meals. You can also consider a donation of $32, which feeds a homeless person for a whole week;

#9 Useful Surprise
The next time you’re wandering through the grocery store, be sure to put the following items in your snack-filled cart: 1.) Gallon-size Ziplock bags; 2.) Travel-size shampoos, deodorants, toothbrushes, combs and toothpaste; 3.) Energy bars. When you get home, fill up a few bags with those items and keep them in your car. When you see a homeless person, give them a Toiletry Goody Bag. Maybe even stick a sweet note of encouragement inside to make sure your gift keeps giving.

#10 Paws To Read
Those of you who have furry companions you want to get involved in volunteering, a few libraries around town dedicate Saturdays to welcoming kids to read to therapy-trained pooches via Reading Paws. Dogs are cute, cuddly and won’t tell you that you made a mistake, which is HUGE for a kid having a hard time reading. The locations change around a bit, so you might want to check with the library system to see when and where you can bring your pup;;

#11 Have Faith
The Miami Coalition of Christians & Jews is a unique nonsectarian organization serving a great mission to “advance understanding and respect among all cultures, religions and races.” Over the past few years, they have hosted engaging lectures and panels that bring forward really great topics relevant to us as individuals and the community as a whole. They are also job-training educators to be more conscious of cultural diversity and how to facilitate dialogue and conflict resolution. You can get involved by attending their programs or sending a check;

#12 Advocating Voices
The Guardian Ad Litem agency has been working for children’s services and needs locally and as part of a state network for a long time. They become advocates in and out of the courtroom for children who are neglected or abused. There are 21 different chapters of the program all over the state. You don’t have to be an attorney to help, just go to their website, fill out a form and eagerly await a call back;

#13 Natural Fit
Founded in 1993, the Everglades Foundation provides educational opportunities for the community, awards grants, offers internships and essentially raises as much money and awareness as possible about our beloved River Of Grass. If you care about saving our natural habitats, there are a few ways to get involved. You can start by reading their blog, learning about ways to save water, give them money and go on a tour of the Everglades. Make sure to bring some bug-spray along;

#14 One Equals Many
This is not your grandfather’s Elk’s Club we’re talking about. This is you and your colleagues getting together to get involved through various activities. For example, there are a number of Rotary Chapters in the community, most of them have weekly lunches with a speaker series. That makes it a good way to learn and network. There’s also the Kiwanis Club, which is known for their Carnival On The Mile, Calle Ocho Festival and the Three Kings Parade in Little Havana. There are also a number of local Chambers Of Commerce you may want to join. Don’t think of them as an opportunity to scarf down a rubber chicken lunch, think of them as hubs of economic growth and leadership opportunities for up-and-coming professionals. The biggest one in town is the Greater Miami Chamber Of Commerce, which meets monthly at Jungle Island. It’s home to Leadership Miami, which is a long-running program for professionals who want to learn more about the community they work in;;;

#15 Back To School
Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) is the 4th-largest school district in the entire country. As you can imagine, there are many ways to help and make a difference. One of the coolest is to sign up to be a “Principle Today”. The annual program aims to engage business and community leaders to serve as school principal for a day. Not ready to be the head of an entire school just yet? No problem. You can offer student internships, volunteer your time or participate in Career Day. Start by contacting the MDCPS Office of Community Engagement;

#16 Equality For All
SAVE is in our community to promote, protect and defend equality for the LGBTQ community. Since 1993, they have been hard at work advocating, fundraising and building awareness. Every year, SAVE throws a massive and show-stopping Halloween Ball which does more than scare away the ghouls…it makes them dance ‘til dawn! But don’t wait till October to get involved, there’s tons of ways to help promote their message today;

#17 MUVE It
Based on the principle of act, learn & engage; the Frost Museum Of Science’s Museum Volunteers For The Environment (MUVE) challenges participants to help fragile ecosystems along the coast. Since 2007, more than 5,000 MUVE volunteers have restored nearly 15 acres of coastal mangroves, dune habitats and freshwater wetlands;

#18 Women Power
The Women’s Fund has been helping women for over 23 years in times of need and crisis by providing shelter and grants to individuals and small organizations serving women and girls. Each year, they host an annual event called “Power Of The Purse.” This year’s event is Apr. 7 at UM’s Bank United Center, and the Honorary Chair is Elle MacPherson (if you feel like lunching with a supermodel);

#19 Techie Treasures
For all you techies out there, you have a place to volunteer, too! Established about 10 years ago, South Florida Digital Alliance is comprised of a group of savvy tech professionals who provide “TLC”, or Technology Learning Centers, in public parks throughout Miami-Dade and Broward County. They are constantly seeking donations and talent to help build and expand their efforts;

#20 Vote!
That’s right! There’s no better way to get involved and make a difference in your community than by participating in your #1 super-important civic duty! So whether you’re Camp Donkey or Camp Elephant, VOTE! ‘Merica and Miami are counting on you! And every vote counts;