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“How do you find all these places?”

July 1, 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012: Kansas City, Missouri

There was Gary in his emergency room bed, still recovering from unexplained excruciating pain, and the first thing he said to me when I arrived was, “How do you find all these places?” I hadn’t seen Gary in over a year, but he had been reading my blog, and—ever thoughtful and curious—wanted to know how I set up my service opportunities. Gary is the father of a very dear friend, Shannon, and the grandfather of Shannon and Cole’s daughters, who are my goddaughters (got that?). He is someone I’ve developed a special fondness for in the short time I’ve known him. He has been supportive in my quest to be of greater service, and knowing that he has enjoyed reading this blog is like having the approval of my own father. For Gary to want to talk about my blog with me right then and there was a gift of immeasurable value to me, a huge lesson in looking outward, being present, and attending to others, rather than focusing on his own suffering.

When Shannon told me that Gary’s cancer had taken a turn for the worse and that it could be helpful to have me there, the timing was serendipitous. I had already taken the days off work to spend with relatives in Tampa before attending a conference in Orlando. It was easier than I expected to change my flights and go to Kansas City, while planning to visit Tampa later this year instead. As a side note, I had also been having a hard time finding a volunteer opportunity in either Tampa or Orlando during my available dates. I had tried unsuccessfully to find a way to support a voter registration drive, given the restrictive new laws in Florida that are disenfranchising poor and minority voters. And so on this occasion, I realized that often we don’t find the opportunities to be of service; they find us.

But to answer Gary’s question, how do I go about finding opportunities in the states that remain on my list to visit in this, my 50th year? First, you should know that I’ve been making travel arrangements based on my availability and cheaper flights. This is what introduces the “random” into my “random acts of volunteering.” I set up the volunteer opportunities only after I’ve already booked my itineraries. Here’s my process so far:

(1) I go to Idealist ( This is an amazing organization whose mission is to create “a world where all people can lead free and dignified lives, every person who wants to help another has the ability to do so, and no opportunities for action or collaboration are missed or wasted.” They act as a connector, a clearinghouse, a network of service organizations and opportunities. On their website, you can search by key word, location, and more, to find jobs, organizations, volunteer opportunities, events, resources, and programs of interest. That’s how I found St. Stephen’s Pantry in Delaware and learned that they had an opportunity I could plug into on the morning I’d be in Wilmington.

(2) Good old-fashioned web searching. I use Google or Bing to find out what’s going on at my destination the dates I’m there. I’ve tried a variety of search terms, such as “volunteer” + “[city, state]” + “[month, day]” + “2012”. When I searched various permutations of “volunteer” + “Bismarck, ND” + “May 19” + “2012”, I didn’t find any obvious candidates, so I broadened my search to “North Dakota” (not just “Bismarck, ND”) and that’s when I found the state’s extremely comprehensive tourism site ( with a complete calendar of virtually every event happening anywhere in North Dakota for every day of the year. That’s how I found the Prairie Places Festival (about 90 miles outside of Bismarck).

(3) Haven’t had to resort to this yet, but if those methods fail, I may try networking through Facebook, or I’ll just show up and see where I can be of service.

Coming up:

July 7: Voter registration drive at the 4th of July Back2School Celebration and Health Fair, Hollywood Community Center, Memphis, Tennessee (another state that has passed new voting restrictions)

August 25/26: Latin Dance Festival, Albuquerque, New Mexico

September 22: To be determined, Charleston, West Virginia (open to any and all suggestions!)

One Comment
  1. lilysea permalink

    That’s a great picture of Daddy! He was always really impressed by you. Cole has family in Charleston, maybe she could help you brainstorm there…

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