Volunteer opportunities on Martha’s Vineyard

Habitat for Humanity deferring mortgage payments and paying some bills for its homeowners. — File photo by MV Times File Photo

New Year’s resolutions are generally focused on self — exercise more, procrastinate less — but maybe the best way to help yourself is to commit to helping others. Albert Schweitzer once said, “Wherever a man turns he can find someone who needs him.” And that’s just as true on the Vineyard as it is anywhere else.

Whether you choose to work with kids, elders, animals, or others in need, getting out and helping where you can may just be the best antidote to the midwinter blues. There a few local organizations that are in real need of help, especially those that are manned exclusively by volunteers.

For instance, Vineyard Village at Home, which provides rides for housebound seniors. The organization, founded in 2006 in response to a study that found that the greatest need for elders living alone was transportation, depends entirely on a volunteer base. There is no specific time commitment, an email blast alerts potential drivers of a need. Currently, Vineyard Village at Home serves 55 clients. “You’re not just helping someone, you’re making friends,” Polly Brown, president, says. For more information, call 508-693-3038, or email vineyardvillage@gmail.com.

Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Martha’s Vineyard has a waiting list of kids looking to be matched with mentors. The organization especially needs men to spend one-on-one time with kids around eight or nine years old who need a little extra companionship. For more information, contact Betsy Hauck, Case Manager, at 508-696-5497 or EHauck@bbbscci.org.

Habitat for Humanity of Martha’s Vineyard employs a volunteer force to help provide affordable housing to families earning at or below 80 percent of the Dukes County Area Median Income. Currently, the local branch of the worldwide organization is completing a project using a house kit that requires almost no carpentry experience. A construction supervisor oversees the operation, and participating in the project is a good way to learn while you help. Just show up on Friday or Saturday at 49 Bailey Park Road, West Tisbury (off Great Plains Road, off Old County Road) to get involved. Teens are welcome, but age restrictions apply. Habitat also has non-construction volunteer opportunities. For more information, call 508-696-4646 or email houses@habitatmv.org.

Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary is dedicated to protecting some of the Vineyard’s valuable habitats. There are four areas in which volunteers can help out, even during the winter months. “We are very much volunteer-driven,” sanctuary director Suzan Bellincampi said. “We couldn’t do what we do without the help of the community.”

Property managers work on the four miles of trails and the garden and help with invasive species removal. Education volunteers help lead field trips and assist with public programs and in-school education. Citizen science work involves wildlife research and monitoring (shorebirds, salamanders and horseshoe crabs are currently being tracked). For those with less inclination to brave winter weather, office and building staff volunteers help to greet visitors and answer wildlife questions. “Volunteers learn about nature and wildlife of the Vineyard and get involved in conservation,” Ms. Bellincampi said. For more information, call 508-627-4850 or email felixneck@massaudubon.org.

Other opportunities – working with kids

The Boys and Girls Club of Martha’s Vineyard provides after-school activities for around 100 kids from kindergarten to 6th grade. Volunteers can sign up to help out on a drop-in basis — playing with kids in the game room, tutoring and helping out with homework, coaching or refereeing basketball games and assisting with the group snacks program. Volunteers can pitch in for as little as an occasional half hour. Junior high and high school kids are welcome to participate. For more information, call 508-627-3303 or email bgclub@vineyard.net.

Tony Lombardi, director of the Alexandra Gagnon Teen Center at the YMCA, is looking to compile a list of volunteers that he can draw from for help chaperoning events at the brand-new facility. He plans to hold a variety of parties and activities for kids between the ages of 13 and 18 throughout the year and hopes to have a corps group of volunteers to contact as need arises. For more information contact Tony Lombardi at 508-696-7171, ext. 128, or email tlombardi@ymcamv.org.

Working with seniors

Windemere is always recruiting volunteers to help transport residents to activities and people to assist with activities or bring their pets for dog visits. But, most importantly, the nursing and rehabilitation facility needs volunteers to participate in their buddies program. People are matched with seniors whom they visit regularly. According to recreation therapy director, Betsy Burmeister, Windemere currently houses 74 residents and only six of them have buddies. She notes that they try to match up people with similar interests. Of one of the newest volunteers she says, “She keeps telling me how happy she is. They talk about art and classical music.” For more information, call 508-693-0410, ext. 1933.

Meals on Wheels, the program provided by Elder Services of Martha’s Vineyard to deliver hot meals to housebound seniors, relies on volunteer drivers. People can sign up for a regular route or volunteer as a substitute. The program operates at lunchtime Monday through Friday and the deliveries, including pickup and drop-off time, take no more than an hour and a half. For more information, call 508-693-4393 or email escci.org.

Helping animals

There are two animal shelters on the Island and both utilize volunteers. The Animal Shelter of Martha’s Vineyard in Edgartown employs volunteers to meet and greet potential adopters, to help with litter boxes and cleaning and to walk dogs when they have them. For more information call 508-696-3840 or email info@dukescounty.org.

Helping Homeless Animals in Oak Bluffs needs help with the same duties and is also looking for administrative and computer help and people to provide foster homes for cats and dogs. For more information, call 508-696-8509 or email kymcyr@comcast.net.

Other opportunities

There are countless other volunteering possibilities on the Island — in the schools, at libraries, at Hospice, at the FARM institute, among many others. For example, both thrift shops depend on a corps of volunteers for sorting, pricing, stocking, and selling. Helpers are not asked to commit to any set schedule, but they are asked to give notice a week in advance regarding their availability. For more information on volunteering in general, contact the Martha’s Vineyard Donors Collaborative at 508-645-3690 or email peter@mvdonors.org.

Before you know it, the summer season — with its myriad activities and responsibilities — will be creeping up again, so now’s the time to think about getting more involved with the community. And you never know: keeping more active might help with that weight loss or procrastination resolution.

Correction: The print version incorrectly attributed a quote from Polly Brown, president of Vineyard Village at Home, to former staff member Jane Hawkes and provided an incorrect email address.