After losing her 23-year-old son to cancer roughly seven years ago, Tess Clair felt emotionally drained and adrift. Her supportive husband and loving daughters did all they could to help her as she grieved, but Clair needed something more. She needed a purpose.
Clair, who managed a large law firm before retiring, found it in volunteering for Step Up on Second and OPCC (now known as The People's Concern), two local nonprofits that work to bring people out of homelessness. Clair currently works at the downtown Access Center on Olympic Boulevard, helping register new clients while also packaging meals or processing donations.
"I'm just drawn to the homeless," the 65-year-old Santa Monica resident said. "Sometimes they just need a little help, like a clean pair of socks or a bottle of water. I just feel the need, especially in Santa Monica, is so great. … Everyone wants to save a puppy or a kitten, but no one seems to like homeless people. I get to know them and their stories. Sometimes they just want someone to smile at them and say, 'It's really nice to see you today.'"
(Tess Clair makes prepares a plate of food for a client at the Acess Center in Downtown Santa Monica.)
While the holiday season is as good a time as any to start volunteering in your community, Santa Monica offers many opportunities all year long, whether it be with nonprofits, service clubs or religious organizations.
"Santa Monica has an extensive variety of nonprofit and community-serving organizations," said Constance Farrell, public information officer for the City of Santa Monica. "Volunteering is a great way to offer skills and experience to organizations that are part of what makes this a wonderful place to live. Consider making a New Year's resolution to get involved locally by finding a group that works in a field you are passionate about."
In addition to serving as a tutor or mentor to youth, volunteers can also provide manicures and facials to people who are unable to access a salon or spa due to a debilitating disease or condition, act as museum guides or docents, clean kennels and play with shelter dogs, or render aid during emergency situations or at large events like the L.A. Marathon.
"You have to search your heart and see what your calling is," Clair said to those interested in volunteering but are still unsure of what to do. "You have to find that thing that touches your soul, otherwise you won't enjoy it and you won't be embracing the true spirit of giving."
The City of Santa Monica maintains a robust list of volunteer opportunities that readers can find here.
In Downtown Santa Monica, readers can volunteer at the following:
• Boys and Girls Club of Santa Monica
1238 Lincoln Blvd.
Youth development and guidance agency for boys and girls between the ages of 7- 18 years. The club offers programs that foster character and leadership development; education and career development; health and life skills; arts; sports; fitness and recreation. Volunteers are involved in tutoring, mentoring and coaching. A volunteer application must be filled out. Applications are available online or in the office. An interview must be completed and a mandatory background check is required prior to volunteering. At least 3-month commitment required.
1853 Lincoln Blvd.
A nonprofit organization dedicated to helping economically disadvantaged and homeless individuals become self-sufficient through employment opportunities. Volunteers help to educate and empower job seeking clients. Candidates can teach/ facilitate job preparation classes, create resumes with clients by working with them one-on-one, conduct interviews, and assist clients with computer use and GED prep. Orientation and "shadowing" for certain positions. A commitment of four months minimum during regular business hours, Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Friday, 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Some evening and weekend opportunities.
• City of Santa Monica CREST Program (Reed Park)
1133 Seventh St.
Offers after-school childcare, enrichment classes and youth sports in Santa Monica's public elementary and middle schools. During the school breaks, CREST runs two youth camps, Camp Santa Monica and Sports Experience. Volunteers can support administrative staff in the Youth office, tutor, lead an enrichment or art class in the childcare program or assist coaches in youth sports. All volunteers 18 years old and up must clear a background check.
• Community Corp. of Santa Monica
1423 Second St.
Community Corporation of Santa Monica is a nonprofit organization that provides affordable housing in the city of Santa Monica. The Resident Services Department organizes and facilitates programs, workshops and presentations that are intended to improve the quality of life for the people who reside in their housing. After-school tutors; computer skills instructors; marketing / outreach specialist; resident services administrative volunteers; career development specialists; fitness instructors and nutritionists are needed. One-hour orientation.
• Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
1640 Fifth St., Suite 124
LAFLA-SM operates a Self Help Legal Access Center located in the Santa Monica Courthouse. The center is a walk-in clinic that offers individuals who are representing themselves legal information; assistance in preparing legal forms; guidance on a variety of civil matters, including: evictions, divorces, paternity actions and civil harassment. Volunteers ranging from undergraduates to retired executives assist in delivering legal services to clients. Volunteers work at the Legal Access Centers and in the office. A minimum of 100 hours.
• Los Angeles Water Keeper
120 Broadway, Suite
L.A. Water Keeper works to protect L.A. County's coastal resources through enforcement, field work and community action. Kelp monitoring and restoration; coastal storm drain monitoring and restoration; Marine Protected Areas Watch program; pubic outreach and advocacy. Field work trainings are held periodically. Length of commitment varies.
• Santa Monica History Museum
1350 Seventh St.
The museum features a permanent exhibit gallery with images and artifacts from all aspects of life in Santa Monica. A temporary exhibit gallery features different a variety of subjects throughout the year. The museum offers free docent-led tours for school children, and may also provide docents at no charge for other groups. Opportunities range from managing the front desk, greeting visitors; tours; assisting in the research library; conducting historic research; helping to organize and maintain our collections and artifacts; and periodically assisting with exhibits. Mandatory orientation meeting and training. Minimum once a week, 3 hours.
• Santa Monica Public Library
601 Santa Monica Blvd.
SMPL provides resources and a place to encourage the community to read, connect, relax and learn. Limited positions available as public info guides; shut-in services; branch library helpers; book discussion group leaders; and at the Friends of the Library bookstore. Candidates 18 years of age and up must clear a live scan background check; training provided. Does not accept court ordered community service. Six-month minimum commitment for most positions.
• SMC Emeritus College
11227 Second St.
Emeritus College is a non-credit educational program for older adults. Assisting students who wish to or are attending Emeritus College with college information and enrollment services. Computer lab volunteers monitor the lab and classroom volunteers assist the instructors. On-the-job training, quarterly orientations and training. Four-hour shifts weekly; however, lab volunteers may work a two-hour time period.
• Step Up on Second
1460 Fourth St. Suite 205
Day services for adults with severe and persistent mental illness. Volunteers run weekly interest groups for members (like creative writing and art); help out in kitchen; assist in day-to-day member services; events and fundraising. All prospective volunteers must go through one orientation, which is held monthly. Prefer four-month minimum commitment.
• WISE & Healthy Aging
1527 Fourth St., 2nd Floor
(310) 394-9871, ext. 552
Mission is to enhance the independence, dignity and quality of life of older adults through leadership, advocacy and innovative services. In adult day care, care management, long-term care ombudsman, elder abuse prevention, in- home services including daily money management and friendly visiting, health clinic, peer counseling, tax counseling, benefits enrollment counseling, reception desk, office work, and literacy tutoring with elementary students. Orientation varies by assignment. Length of commitment varies.
• Santa Monica Family YMCA
1332 Sixth St.
(310) 393-2721 x119
The Santa Monica Family YMCA is dedicated to serving its members by providing programs and services that enrich the quality of the physical, mental, spiritual and social lives of individual members, their families and communities. Volunteers can lead activities such as singing, acting, chess; coach basketball; help in office or at a special event; design a brochure; fundraise for annual auction. Volunteer application, including reference information, finger printing background check, attend the Y Safety and Child Abuse Prevention Training. CPR and First Aid training card is required. Length of commitment varies.