“The best and most memorable and valuable part of my American experience was volunteering because I felt useful. I felt that I was doing something for the community, not only that the community was doing something for me.” Esma, an exchange student from Georgia who is blind
Why Volunteer in the United States?
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
- Satisfy requirements for your international exchange program, if any
Tips for Choosing a Volunteer Program
Not all disabled people want to volunteer with a disability organization. Remember that your skills and experience can be just as valuable to a non-disability organization. Instead, 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 a volunteer activity is less accessible or more challenging than you are used to, you will need to decide if you want to accept the challenge.
Examples of Volunteer Activities
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 garden or food pantry
- Tutoring students
- Presenting about one’s country and culture at school
- Playing music or singing at a retirement home
- Cleaning a beach or park
Under Related Links below are online search engines to find U.S. volunteer opportunities, many of which accept international volunteers.
Costs and Expenses
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, visas, 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 – just ask!