Benjamin Levinsohn, Director of Volunteers at the Intrepid Museum put it this way, when asked about the people who gladly give their time to the organization; “It’s rare to work with an entire team made up of people who are there because they want to be. That’s what makes working with volunteers special.”
We, as Manhattanites, embrace a mixture of all cultures, classes, religions and economic strata. Here, there are always others less fortunate, people with literacy issues, abandoned household animals, plants and trees that need nurturing, tourists that need information, large city-wide events, political candidates that need people, the list is endless. Some reading this will be retired, some reading will be young and at the start of their careers, and many in-between these categories. Chances are everyone will have some free time to help others. Where do you start? All it takes for each and everyone of us to give some time up to pursue the choices that interest you. No matter what you do for a living, there are volunteer opportunities in store for you. How do you begin?
Why not start with New York Cares?
New York Cares
(https://www.newyorkcares.org/) This organization pairs your interest, availability and Borough preference with what will interest you, all on-line. It’s a great place to start. Maybe you have a friend or work acquaintance who may be volunteering at a place that seems like a good fit. There is always the option of looking for a place on your own. Do bear in mind that many organizations have specific dates for the selection of volunteers.
The High Line
In common with others, there was the question of what to do to fill my time, no longer 9-to-5 for five days a week. After six months or so, I started volunteering at the High Line; this is now my seventh season as an information volunteer and third as a docent leading tour groups. It has been a terrific way to use my time, meeting people from all over the world, and communicating to everyone that New York is a wonderful place, filled with history, architecture, art and plants and flowers. In my small way, I’m repairing the world, chasing out the stereotypes of New Yorkers as rude, condescending and overbearing. On the tours, which run between 45 and 90 minutes, visitors learn all about the neighborhood and about the City as well. I’ve met and befriended other volunteers as well, learning from them about their lives, and other volunteering opportunities. One of those came up after I started with the High Line, through another volunteer—that lasted about two years, stopped with COVID, and hasn’t happened since. Through word of mouth from yet another volunteer there has been another stint for me.https://www.thehighline.org/volunteers/
The Intrepid Museum
It’s a much different experience, as I’ve found out as a volunteer explainer. While the High Line is largely about looking at many things from a distance, Intrepid is all about literally touching technology, naval warfare, space travel, Supersonic passenger travel, military aircraft, and above all, the men and women of our armed forces who have served and continue to serve this country. The 140 volunteers here gave over 17,000 hours of service in 2022. About half of the volunteers here are veterans from all branches of the military. All add additional documentation to the static exhibits. One of the parts of the Museum is USS Growler, a submarine; a former submariner on that sub, lives on the Lower West Side, comes in early most mornings to polish the brass aboard; he is the ultimate volunteer. During Fleet Week or a visit to the Museum you will come into contact with volunteers there; ask them anything, and maybe they will convince you to come on board.
Animal Care Center
A few close friends volunteer at the Manhattan facility on East 110th Street. If you love animals, this is somewhere you should be, taking care of homeless and abandoned cats, dogs, and rabbits. Volunteers are able to interact with the shelter pets to provide exercise, attention, comfort and socialization to reduce stress, improve their health, strengthen trust with humans, and increase their adoptability, by giving a few hours each month. If you don’t own a pet, or can’t have one in your apartment, it’s a great compromise to be able to dog walk or play with kittens and help these worthy animals, as well as helping to find them new and loving homes.
Center for Jewish History
Manhattan, an island comprised of many people that have descended from different places all over the world. Keeping the genealogical flame alive after hundreds of years of history has created the need for diverse historical organizations to document those ancestries.
One such organization is the Center for Jewish History in New York City. It illuminates history, culture, and heritage, and a collaborative home for five partner organizations. Like other similar organizations, volunteers are needed to lead tours, dispense information to visitors, help with genealogical work, to add to their interest in Judaism, education, culture, the arts and history. Another friend has started to volunteer here and enjoys helping people to find out their familial past.
No matter where your ancestors arrived from, chances are there is an organization that provides documentation for your ethnic group, most likely here in Manhattan. To provide an overview of what selecting techniques prospective volunteers should be aware of, Mr. Levinsohn gave Straus News Manhattan his insights.
First, there was the question about if you are in your 20’s and wish to give time to volunteer. He suggested working with an organization that needs help during the evenings and/or has ways in which you can help out from home, is a good idea for younger volunteers. At other times of the day, full-time work, college and starting a family aren’t as viable.Volunteers need to show up on schedule for efficient operation for a regular commitment.Then, no matter what age is, what makes for a volunteer’s acceptance? And what is a sure fire interview rejection? He noted that volunteers need to be forward facing in engaging with the public, willing to approach visitors. At the Museum, many visitors are unsure of what to ask and/or too intimidated to ask questions. Volunteer pro activity is a must. Conversely, a turnoff is one hesitant to give in-depth answers. If someone struggles with that in a one on one interview, there is no confidence that they will engage groups of visitors.
Turning the tables on Mr. Levinsohn, Straus News asked him about what made him choose this career path and working with his peers,. He described it was an accident, starting by collecting antiques at 12, coupled with a love of history, then combining both by working at a museum. While he didn’t start out in volunteer management, an opening came up for it, and turned into his ideal career path. In current meetings with his peers at other organizations, he sees eye to eye with them, although the Intrepid Museum has mostly male volunteers. perhaps reflecting the make of the military services. In his closing thoughts, he hoped that new volunteers will continue to come to augment the veteran pool, now smaller from more recent conflicts that have used fewer troops than WWII, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War. In conclusion, no matter what your passion is, these examples show that there is a place for you to help out making the world be a better place.