Volunteer in the United States
Read on to learn about the many ways you can make a difference in the U.S.
Volunteerism (also known as community service) is highly valued in the United States. Anyone can be a volunteer, and many international visitors with disabilities have volunteered in their U.S. host communities.
Although volunteer positions are unpaid, there are many possible benefits:
- Gain career experience and skills to add to your resume or CV.
- Help promote a good cause.
- Use or develop your leadership skills.
- Meet new people and make new friends.
- Raise awareness that people with disabilities can make a positive contribution.
- Strengthen your English skills (if English is not your primary language).
- Satisfy requirements for your international exchange program, if any.
- Not all disabled people want to volunteer with a disability organization. Remember your skills and experience can be just as valuable to a non-disability organization.
- Think about the kind of volunteer work that interests you, whether it involves social work, environmental conservation, community development, business, the arts, or humanitarian aid.
- As you contact organizations about their volunteer opportunities, ask about their policies towards non-U.S. citizens as well as people with disabilities. Some programs may be open to American citizens only while others welcome participants from all over the world. Ask if the organization is welcoming of volunteers of all backgrounds and abilities.
- Some volunteer sites or projects will be more accessible than others. If you a site is less accessible or more challenging than you are used to, you will need to decide if you want to accept the challenge.
Azima Zaidi, a YES student from Pakistan with a physical disability, volunteered at a food bank in her U.S. host community.
The following are real examples of how high school and college students with disabilities served their U.S. host communities as volunteers:
- Working at a community food pantry
- Gardening at a community garden
- Tutoring or supervising children
- Collecting food, clothing, and other supplies for people in need
- Presenting about one's culture or country at a school
- Playing music or singing at a retirement home
- Selling concessions for school fundraisers
- Cleaning a beach or park
- Presenting safety tips for visually impaired people at a blind event
Amizade is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting volunteerism, providing community service, encouraging collaboration, and improving cultural awareness in locations throughout the world, including three in the United States.
Global Volunteers has three sites in the United States where participants work closely with local communities and cultural exchange.
Habitat for Humanity International offers one- to three-week programs for individuals or groups of all faiths interested in building homes for families in need in the United States and other countries. Volunteers are needed for a range of activities. People with disabilities and international applicants are welcome to apply.
HealthCare Volunteer is a great site to search if you are interested in the health field. Search volunteer positions in the United States by state.
Idealist.org has thousands of opportunities from non-profit and grassroots organizations around the world. This site also has a social networking feature so you can connect with others who are "idealists".
United Way is a national volunteer network that can link potential volunteers to local chapters.
Volunteers for Peace has 2-4 week work camps in the United States for people from around the world.
Volunteer Abroad lets you search by country, type of volunteer work, and duration of your project.
YMCA International has three programs available to international volunteers. YMCA has experience working with volunteers with disabilities and encourages others to apply.
- INBOUND EXCHANGES FOR INTERNATIONAL YOUNG ADULTS: YMCA International Camp Counselor Program (ICCP): offers young adults from over 122 nations leadership opportunities serving as camp counselors or support staff at day and resident camps throughout the U.S.
- YMCA International Career Advancement Program: helps qualified youth from around the world come to the U.S. to train with host site organizations in social services, business management, health enhancement, and arts and culture.
YMCA International Work and Travel Program: gives students from around the world, who might otherwise not be able to afford to participate in an exchange program to the United States, the opportunity to experience life in the U.S. during their summer school break.
- Most organizations that seek volunteers are non-profit agencies and do not have the funds to pay volunteers or sponsor visas. Because of this, volunteers are usually responsible for making their own arrangements for travel, lodging and meals.
- If an organization does arrange housing, meals, or travel for volunteers, they may charge the volunteers a fee. Make sure the organization is reputable before sending any money.
- Sometimes an organization may offer a small stipend to volunteers who make a longer time commitment of service or to take on extra responsibilities.
- You can choose whether to disclose, or tell, an organization about your disability or not. Disclosing your disability may help the organization better support your needs, and it may help raise the organization's awareness and understanding of how to include volunteers with disabilities.
- Become familiar with your disability rights and needs in the United States and how to prepare for life in the United States.
- Learn about accessible transportation and housing.
- Funding for personal aids or services related to a disability, such as wheelchairs, eyeglasses, hearing aids, or housekeeping, are considered the responsibility of the individual. If you need personal aids or services, read Community Resources for International Students with Disabilities in the United States. More information is also in the section of the tipsheet: Are there costs associated with disability-related services?
- You will need a visa in order to study in the United States. Find out about visa considerations for students with disabilities.