‘Volunteer vacations’ a popular trend for many
By Jackie Runion
Anyone vowing to travel or to make a difference in the new year can do both at the same time in the form of a "volunteer vacation."
A number of companies, organizations and programs exist to offer people of all ages a chance to volunteer and help others while on vacation, whether it be either a car ride or a long plane trip away.
A popular trend that comes in the form of mission trips, alternative spring breaks and state and nationally-organized charity projects, the concept of volunteer tourism can give people a chance to get out of their backyards and also make an impact in their state, country or in a community overseas.
Volunteer vacation opportunities
- Features: Database directory of service opportunities for 99,000 nonprofits across U.S. that provide search-by-location and service-type engines.
- Requirements: Vary by project.
- Ages: Accepts all ages.
- Features: Worldwide, week-long volunteer projects.
- Requirements: Cost and application required, trips are tax-deductible.
- Ages: All ages accepted, children 15 and under must travel with a parent or guardian.
- Features: Variety of service projects in East Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America.
- Requirements: Application required.
- Ages: Teens and older.
American Hiking Society
- Features: Week-long trail and park maintenance projects across the U.S.
- Requirements: Varying fees and registration required.
- Ages: All ages accepted, volunteers under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult.
Ohio Department of Natural Resources:
- Features: Various volunteer activities for groups and individuals of all ages across Ohio's 74 state parks.
- Requirements: None.
- Ages: All ages accepted.
In the area, common traveling service projects are found most frequently through colleges and churches.
Marietta resident Terry Schmelzenbach is one of many people who found a passion in overseas mission work through his church.
Through the Marietta Church of the Nazarene, Pastor Schmelzenbach has taken multiple trips to Swaziland, Africa, not only to experience the beautiful scenery and wildlife, but to help others.
"We've had a presence there since 1908," Schmelzenbach said. "The Church of the Nazarene has a large base there, and we educate about 32 percent of the people in that country."
Schmelzenbach said the groups, which typically consist of just fewer than 20 people and with all ages involved, help work on the country's two colleges and help with various building projects and food needs in the area.
"It's things as simple as laying and cutting tile for floors and stuff like that for buildings over there," he said. "When you're worrying about where your next meal is coming from, you don't worry about stuff like that."
The group often takes clothing and food to help out the locals in addition to delivering sermons.
"We turn it into a 50/50 deal," Schmelzenbach said. "The rest of the time we spend in Kruger (National) Park, where all the safari animals are, and we stay the night there in a fenced-in area."
Schmelzenbach said he and his wife save up to go on the trips every few years, including one coming up in June.
"The average lifespan is like 32 years of age, and $10 a day is considered a good job, so they know you're there for them," he said. "We go over there and feed them, but we also work with them."
Through organizations like Projects Abroad and Global Aware, people of all ages can pay for tax-deductible vacations connected to national and international service projects.
Through Projects Abroad, which sends some 10,000 volunteers around the world each year, applicants can travel across the world to build schools, teach, conserve wildlife and provide childcare.
Many Projects Abroad trips allow anyone 16 and older to join, while short-term programs like Alternative Break Trips and High School Specials offer similar experiences for college students and teens.
"Alternative Spring Break trips are designed with short-term volunteering in mind and give college students the chance to break away from the usual spring break experience and give the gift of service to those in need," said Tom Pastorius, the head of recruitment for Projects Abroad.
And Global Aware also offers its own volunteer vacations that provide teaching, clean-up, building and other types of activities within the U.S. and abroad.
Other companies and their respective websites, like volunteermatch.org and voluntourism.org, provide similar matching opportunities to either allow groups and individuals to directly apply for a service project or to provide resources about projects across the nation and how they can get involved.
Marietta resident Kevin Ritter is the owner and founder of Coast to Coast Athletics, a Marietta company established in 2002 that not only provides scholarships to local students, but provides teaching opportunities to children and teenagers around the world.
"On the service side we are involved in baseball clinics, and we've done these in Europe, Puerto Rico, Australia and in Florida," Ritter said.
The program offers $1,000 scholarships to area Washington County students that staff deem college-ready, both to give them a head-start in paying for tuition while also providing an opportunity to teach the sport to their peers and to younger children across the world.
Domestically, a popular volunteer opportunity for outdoor fanatics is through the American Hiking Society.