Members of the Go Overseas community have expressed interest in volunteering to support hurricane relief efforts in the U.S. To help, we have put together a resource on where and how you can volunteer in hurricane relief.

Whether you're from outside the U.S. and want to experience this vast, diverse nation as a volunteer, or you're an American looking to travel outside your hometown, this guide will help you figure out what sort of volunteer projects you can do based on region.

From volunteering with horses on a ranch in Wyoming, wildlife conservation in the marshes of Florida and the wild mountains of Colorado, or assisting with youth development in the south, there's a project out there to meet any level of experience, interest, or duration requirement.

Unique to the United States are the opportunities to volunteer with specific native American populations -- from the Navajo in the south to a myriad of tribes in the Pacific Northwest.

Excited yet? Then let’s take a look at just a few of the volunteer programs operating throughout the U.S. -- both through this guide and the programs listed below -- and how you can get involved!

Photo Credit: dhilung

Much of the eastern United States is comprised of industrial towns or sprawling urban areas like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, D.C., and Atlanta. But what if we move a little bit further in to the less-developed areas of Appalachia, we’ll find a region in great need of improved education, renovations to houses and community buildings, and even upkeep on its famous 2,180-mile-long trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine.

What can you do?

  • Appalachia Service Project: Based in Tennessee, volunteers with the Appalachia Service Project assist with construction and renovation programs for underserved and impoverished communities. Trips are catered to adult, college, and youth volunteer groups, and last one weekend to one week at a time.
  • Appalachian Trail Conservancy: With programs stretching across the length of the Appalachian Trail, this organization focuses on trail building and environmental conservation. Volunteers work for one week or longer on trail crews, which provide trail relocation and rehabilitation, as well as bridge and shelter construction. Participants must be 18 or older, and no previous trail work experience is necessary.
  • Camphill Special School: This Pennsylvania school cares for and educates children, youth, and young adults with developmental disabilities. Residential and non-residential volunteers and interns are welcome to help in the school, assist with gardening and landscaping, take on construction projects, and more.

This area, comprising Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, has needed ongoing construction and recovery work in the six years since Hurricane Katrina as well as the 2010 BP oil spill. Volunteers in the Gulf Coast often are called upon to build homes or renovate damaged ones, rehabilitate sick and injured animals, and assist with habitat restoration.

What can you do?

  • Common Ground Relief: Based in New Orleans, Common Ground Relief’s volunteers work on such varied projects as construction, disaster response, environmental conservation, and legal and social work. On one project, volunteers can provide advice and assistance to homeowners faced with legal obstacles such as contractor fraud or wrongful home demolition. Short- and long-term projects are available for volunteers of varying skills and expertise.
  • Habitat for Humanity: As one of the most widespread volunteer organizations in the world, Habitat’s volunteers work on a global scale—and even within the U.S., projects are hosted from city to city and from state to state. Volunteers construct homes or renovate older or damaged ones—for example, the St. Bernard Project in New Orleans rebuilds homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Programs last one week or longer, and volunteers are accommodated in shared, community housing.
  • Gulf Coast Wildlife Rescue: Located in Texas, the Gulf Coast Wildlife Rescue trains volunteers to rehabilitate sick and injured birds, reptiles, and mammals. Volunteers must be at least 18 years old and attend orientation and training in order to handle the animals. Training sessions are held on the fourth Tuesday of each month, and are open to the public.

Midwest & Beyond

An incredibly diverse area for finding volunteer opportunities, the Midwest and western United States (excluding the coast, which we’ll get to next) offer programs in youth development, environmental conservation, disaster response and recovery, and even paleontology.

That’s not to say you can’t find youth development programs in Georgia—because you totally can—but the point is there isn’t necessarily a strong trend to cover volunteerism in the Midwest. If you have an idea in mind for the type of work you’d like to do, you’ll probably find a great program addressing it in this region.

What can you do?

  • Samaritan’s Purse: Samaritan’s Purse historically has deployed volunteers throughout the U.S. and abroad to respond to natural disasters, including the tornadoes that devastated Joplin, MO earlier this year. Projects often include home repair, construction, and cleanup, and individual and team sign-up forms are available on the organization’s website. Current U.S. response projects are operating in Alabama, Alaska, North Carolina, and North Dakota.
  • Wyoming Dinosaur Center: This program allows volunteers to dig for a day, or for recurring volunteers to take on ongoing tasks and have a greater hand in research projects. Volunteers must arrange their own transportation, accommodation, and meals while working with the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.
  • Cheyenne River Youth Project: Based in South Dakota, the Cheyenne River Youth Project’s volunteers teach and care for children, and take part in community development projects. Volunteers can expect to help with recreational activities, everyday youth center operations, counseling, fundraising, light construction and gardening, and other projects that keep the Cheyenne River Youth Project successful and sustainable. Programs last six weeks to two years, and volunteers are housed in community buildings.

The volunteer work needed here heavily focuses on environmental conservation, trail building, and wildlife research and protection. With sandy beaches to the south and mountains and redwood forests to the north, volunteers can find all types of environmental projects to fit their interests, physical fitness, and skill levels.

Also, if you're specifically interested in volunteering on a ranch, states like Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Washington, and Texas (not all of which are west coast) are good spots to look into.

What can you do?

  • Catalina Island Conservancy: Volunteers with the Catalina Island Conservancy work with environmental conservation and research projects, including beach cleanup, trail building, and invasive plant removal at a native plant nursery. Projects are ongoing depending on the volunteer’s availability—though one-week volunteer vacation options also are offered—and accommodations are provided in a cabin or private house.
  • Pacific Crest Trail Association: This organization works to maintain and improve the 2,600-mile-long Pacific Crest Trail. Volunteers help with trail maintenance, invasive plant removal, washout repair, and more. Programs are ongoing depending on the volunteer’s availability, though one-week or longer projects also are offered in partnership with other organizations, such as the Student Conservation Association.
  • Marine Mammal Center: Based in California, the Marine Mammal Center welcomes volunteers interested in wildlife conservation and research, as well as environmental awareness and education. Volunteers can expect to rehabilitate sick and injured animals, transport animals to and from the project site, and work as docents at the community education center. Programs here are ongoing depending on the volunteer’s availability.

Contributed by Sarah Palmer

Guide Author
Photo of Sarah Palmer
Go Overseas Writer

Volunteer Programs in the USA

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