Give of Yourself This Holiday Season

By Marta Yamamoto, Special to the Planet
Friday December 22, 2006

Each of us approaches the idea of gift-giving according to our own set of standards. We consider needs, desires, cost and degree of closeness. For family we solicit suggestions, for friends we debate possibilities, for “duty” gifts we head to Sees or BevMo. We purchase, wrap and present our offerings, awaiting response. In this sense we have given a bit of ourselves. 

Consider the option of the ultimate gift, your time. Taking an elderly relative on a country drive or out to lunch; helping a friend with an arduous chore, more easily accomplished by two; spending hours or an entire day at the zoo, a museum or the park with younger folk.  

In the true spirit of giving, stretch this “gift” toward an organization, for a commitment of several hours over a period of months. Become a volunteer. Whether non-profit or for-profit, organizations can’t get the jobs done on their own, lacking personnel, funding or usually both. They rely on dedicated volunteers to accomplish their missions.  

With the end of the year in sight, many of us reflect back and then forward. The time is ripe to give the gift of time—your time—and, as usual, the choices expand far beyond those waiting in line to serve and the suggestions described below are merely the foam on a cappuccino. 

Focus on your interests: people, animals, books, the environment. Whatever time you have, it won’t be wasted.  

Within the health-care field the range is broad. At Alta Bates Hospital, senior, junior and collegiate volunteers staff the Gift Shop, aid with registration, escort patients and their families, transport charts, medical records and lab tests, fold newsletters and assist nurses. Personal contact with a caring individual eases any hospital experience. The Berkeley Free Clinic is dependent on trained volunteers and volunteer professionals to provide all services, aid in administrative duties, fundraise and maintain the facility. 

The Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay welcomes those willing to assist with daily Center activities as leaders or aides, work one-on-one with patients and send out letters for fundraising. Special skills in music, performance and art are appreciated. The Crisis Support Services of Alameda County stresses “skilled intervention by nonprofessionals can help people in emotional crisis.” Through a 24-hour telephone crisis line, in classrooms and in the community with homebound seniors, volunteers offer compassion and hope in times of grief and prevent suicides. Multiple tasks await at the Women’s Cancer Resource Center of Oakland, everything from community outreach, information and referral helpline, library work and in-home support. From your time at a fund-raising event to a weekly commitment of two to four hours, all is welcomed. 

Children hold a special place in our hearts and often require our help. Like most public institutions, demands at the 16 Berkeley schools far outnumber resources. Volunteers help fill the gaps. Your time is valued working within a specific classroom, as a writing coach, in after-school programs, in libraries, with Special Education students and in school offices. Even from your own home you can become a literary pen-pal, exchanging letters about books. 

The goal of Big Brother Big Sisters of the Bay Area is to “provide a mentor for every child who needs or wants one.” To become one of these mentors is to leave an imprint on a child’s life while enriching your own. Participate in regular events, like picnics and parties once or twice a year, volunteer through a school once a week or become a “Big.” 

If you’ve ever visited the Berkeley Library during Story Time you’ve heard enthusiastic voices, both children delighted with the tale and the reader pitching his voice above their glee. Volunteers participate as readers, guides and technology helpers, signing on for shifts of two-hours per week and a three-month period. If your interest lies in helping adults, one-on-one, with literacy, the Berkeley Reads Program could use your help tutoring reading and writing and helping English-speaking adults achieve their learning goals. 

The Alameda Community Food Bank uses several methods to connect people with food and to break the cycle of hunger and poverty. It’s a daunting goal and requires the help of dedicated volunteers. People work directly at the Food Bank, sorting and distributing food. Others coordinate Food Drives, educate communities and lawmakers, staff the office and the Food Helpline. Meals-On-Wheels provide warm meals to homebound seniors. Drivers are needed for shifts between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., Monday through Friday. 

If the furry and four-legged capture your heart, the Berkeley East Bay Humane Society warrants your attention. Canine Nurturers and Feline Cuddlers are always being sought to comfort, groom, clean, play with and walk those awaiting adoption. Groomers groom. Volunteers in Mobile Outreach visit shopping centers with potential “pets,” usually on weekends. Some offer foster homes for special needs pets— those too young, ill or requiring help with their socialization skills. After attending an orientation, the Society requests your time with two-hour shifts weekly and a six month commitment. 

At the Milo Foundation, help is needed at the store with adoptions, walking and grooming. Some volunteers opt to help at the Milo Sanctuary near Willits while others open their homes for extended personal attention to just one animal. 

If you’re drawn to preserving our environmental heritage, several organizations seek volunteers. Friends of Five Creeks focus their attention on five creeks within North Berkeley, Kensington, Albany and southern El Cerrito. Monthly work parties get their hands dirty restoring and enhancing wildlife and creek habitat by controlling erosion, removing invasive plants, planting natives and installing interpretive signs, railings and litter cans. You’ll see this grassroots, all-volunteer organization at fairs and within classrooms. 

Similar work on a broader scale is performed by Save The Bay: Wetland Restoration. Beginning with collecting native plant seeds, propagating them in nurseries and returning them along the shoreline, Save The Bay checks water quality and monitors the health of wildlife populations. Here you can get your hands dirty and learn wildlife ecology. Projects in early 2007 focus on San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge and Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline. 

There are thousands of acres, hundreds of miles of trails and not enough personnel to maintain our East Bay Regional Parks. Operations Volunteers are needed to repair existing trails and construct new ones, a task akin to the painting of the Golden Gate Bridge; prune back vegetation and build retaining walls, bridges, causeways and drainage structures. Wildlife Volunteers are the stewards of the parks. They provide hands-on efforts in conservation and resource management, working with quail, least tern, black rail, duck, swallow and frog populations. To share your love of nature or of a particular park, you can become a Regional Park Ambassador; if empty time stretches forward; 10 parks offer docent-training programs. Spend your days at Tilden’s Little Farm and assist naturalists with activities and tours.  




Alta Bates Hospital  

2450 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, 204-2032, www.altabates.com/how/volunteer. 


The Berkeley Free Clinic 

2339 Durant Ave., Berkeley, 548-2570, www.berkeleyfreeclinic.org/volunteer. 


Alzheimer’s Services of the East Bay 

2320 Channing Way, Berkeley, 644-8292, www.aseb.org/helping/volunteers. 


Crisis Support Services of Alameda County 

P.O. Box 3120, Oakland, 420-2471, http://crisissupport.org/index1. 


Women’s Cancer Resource of Oakland 

3023 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 548-9286, www.wcrc.org/volunteering. 


Berkeley School Volunteers 



Big Brother Big Sisters of the Bay Area 

729-5050, www.bbbseastbay.org. 


Berkeley Public Library/Berkeley Reads 



Alameda County Community Food Bank 

7900 Edgewater Drive, Oakland. Volunteer Manager 635-3663 ext. 308, www.accfb.org/volunteer. 



1901 Hearst Ave, Berkeley, 981-5250, www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/seniors/portable/portablemeals. 


Berkeley East Bay Humane Society 

2700 Ninth St., Berkeley, 845-7735, www.berkeleyhumane.org. 


The Milo Foundation 

1575 Solano Ave., Berkeley, 527-PETS, www.milofoundation.org. 


Friends of Five Creeks 

Meet at 7 p.m. the first Monday of the month at the Albany Community Center, 1249 Marin Ave., 848-9358, www.fivecreeks.org. 


Save The Bay 

350 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Suite 900, Oakland, 452-9261, www.savesfbay.org.  


East Bay Parks 

544-2631, www.ebparks.org/volunter/volunter.