“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” — Muhammad Ali

Are you looking for volunteer opportunities? – For the greater good, to reach your full Maslow’s hierarchy of self-actualization? For Pre-OT shadowing hours? To build your resume? All of the above? Look no further than this post.

I wrote a specific post on how to get specifically “Occupational Therapy” Shadowing hours in a Pandemic which is a good resource to check out after reading this if this pertains to you.

Once in a while, I find cool resources on the Internet or Hacks that are worth sharing. When I was pre-OT and in OT school, I wish I knew about some of these resources. Maybe they did not exist, I didn’t know to look, or they were just not popular. Nowadays, we have so many resources available at our fingertips for purposes such as finding volunteering opportunities, it is mind-blowing to me. You can do a simple google search, ask strangers on social media, on forums, and so on.

Before I discuss anything else, let’s talk about safety.

Safety

As this is the Internet, you should be safe and cautious – especially with in-person volunteering. That’s not to say that websites like VolunteerMatch or similar ones are not safe, but you never know. Before you go on to volunteer with an opportunity that you find on websites such as VolunteerMatch, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Look up the organization, read their bio, how long they have been around, and so on. Don’t just look on the organization’s website, but other websites that talk about this organization. Sometimes you’ll just know because you may have heard of them, e.g. Boys and Girls Club of America, other times you may not have heard of them before, but that does not mean they are not legitimate.

Another thing you can do is volunteer with a buddy and not go alone, at least in the very beginning to get a sense of how safe it is. Volunteering should be a free opportunity. If you are asked to pay, then that is a huge red flag. While donating resources is also great, especially for disaster relief, what you’ll probably be looking to donate is your time – in exchange for a fulfilling volunteering experience. With that out of the way, let’s talk about why websites such as volunteermatch.org are so awesome.

Volunteer Match

I’ll be talking about this one specifically as it’s the one I found and has search results of volunteer opportunities I think are relevant that I would personally do. If you just enter your local zip code, you get a bunch of neat volunteer opportunities, but this is very broad.

Here’s where the hack- you can narrow your search by specific criteria. Before you go on and do this yourself and leave this website, you should know that it is likely it may not turn up many, or any results at all.

This is because it is very specific and I don’t imagine there are many organizations that are taking the time to either label or tag their opportunities under these categories such as occupational therapy, pediatrics, or mental health. So if you get no search results, try selecting more interest areas to broaden up your search. Also, try sorting by instead of “new” to “relevant” or “near me”. The default search is for in-person, but being that we are in a pandemic, try switching the search to virtual and see if anything turns up.

Searching by Cause on VolunteerMatch with recommended OT filters highlighted in orange.

If nothing turns up, try broadening up your search, even more, to say, healthcare, or other areas. For example, if you know CPR and are BLS certified, why not include that in your search and see what turns up.

Searching by Skill on VolunteerMatch with recommended OT-related filters in black.

You can search by cause area or by skill (health care and social services). If you are having a difficult time finding any results, clear the search filter and try broadening the search criteria. Also, consider increasing the distance or entering a more populated area such as a major city like San Francisco. They may also offer virtual or remote volunteering, in which case it does not matter how far the posted listing is. Other times, even if a listing is for a certain area, you can ask if they have any in your area.

Here’s an example of some interesting volunteer opportunities that came up in all of 5 minutes:

  • Volunteer to get America Vaccinated!
  • Check-In On Your Neighbors
  • Make a difference in a [location’s] child’s life….become a mentor
  • Meals on Wheels Drivers
  • Become a Hospice volunteer in [location]
  • Volunteer from home in [location]! Bake for at-risk youth and foster kids!
  • Make a Difference in an Elder’s Life Today! (COVID Safe Opportunity!)
    • Volunteers provide companionship, a listening ear, and their company. Who you are paired with is based on location, availability, and shared interests. 
  • Patient Care Volunteer

What about OT Opportunities for Shadowing?

Some of you may be looking to shadow under an occupational therapist. I would guess that the search engine for these volunteer websites won’t be able to return any results (despite having an occupational therapy search filter). Try to get creative and call or e-mail some organizations that you think may have an OT and ask if they actually have occupational therapists – or know of some from their experience.

Hack #2 – Google Search by Site for OT Shadowing Experiences

Some of you may know this already, but you can enter in a search string for Google to search through a specific website using “site:domain name”. So for example, if you wanted to search for this article easily, you can type in “occupational therapy volunteering otdude” and it may turn up. An even more sure way to return results from a specific website is to enter “occupational therapy volunteering site:otdude.com

So apply this trick to VolunteerMatch. You’ll get some results, but some may be old, being that google returns search results by popularity.

  • Google: “occupational therapy site:volunteermatch.org“.
  • Narrow it down by recency: click Tools then the Any Time dropdown to choose a more recent search filter such as Past Week or Past Month.

Viola! OT volunteering opportunities. Some of these may have expired, but it may give you some inspiration or ideas of where to look next or types of organizations you can then enter back into Google. And you’re not only limited by VolunteerMatch, try other websites like Americorps.gov.

While I could help you all search for some OT opportunities, the factors of location, new listings or old ones expiring, and just new opportunities being posted all the time doesn’t make it feasible to post my findings. Unfortunately, you’ll have to do some research yourself.

Other Places to Look

Don’t be afraid to cold call and politely ask. If they don’t know and have the time, ask if they have any ideas or recommendations.

  • Hospitals (local or even remote these days)
  • Clinics
  • Schools
  • Adult Day Centers
  • Daycares
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities
  • Mental Health Clinics
  • Community Behavioral Health Programs
  • Or anywhere that Occupational Therapists work!
  • Do a job search on sites like Indeed for occupational therapists and see what companies are hiring, then consider calling or contacting these companies.
  • Consider reaching out to OTs directly on social media. Find some who are actively posting (more likely to respond) and ask them directly or for some contacts. You never know.

Unfortunately, I am on leave right now and not actively working so I can’t take any shadows at the moment, but I hope to pay it back to the community someday. I’ll make a post about it when I am available. I had two shadows in the hospital and it was great to have them experience what I do.

Good luck and enjoy your volunteering experience. Don’t forget to ask for a timesheet of your hours and have it signed if you are using it for school.