Volunteer Opportunities in San Diego


Yesterday, I suggested San Diegans make a New Years resolution to find a dedicated volunteer activity in 2009.  Despite the fact San Diegans do a great job helping strangers during times of crisis (October 2007 wildfires) and supporting fundraising activities (5K runs and Silent Auctions), community organizations often struggle to find enough dedicated volunteers who help on a regular basis.

In yesterday’s post, I included a number of volunteer opportunities to help children, the elderly, the disabled, and others in need.  Today, I am going to suggest lesser known volunteer opportunities that often occur behind the scenes to help make our communities a better place to live.

Volunteer to Improve our Governance

Many probably assume the government is or should be taking care of some function within the community. But, in reality, that is often not the case. It is usually a group of volunteers who come together to help create a better community for the rest of us. For example, the Union Tribune recently profiled a group of Mira Mesa volunteers who have been going around their community to paint out graffiti every Sunday for the past 16 years. Most people who live or work in Mira Mesa and Sorrento Mesa probably assume there are no problems with ‘taggers’ in the area because you rarely see any graffiti. In reality, there are graffiti problems in just about every community.  Fortunately, some communities have dedicated volunteers who make a point of keeping up step-for-step with the graffiti artists.

Do you realize that many of the fireworks displays you see around the county are organized by volunteers?  Not only is it not a function of the city, but the volunteers have to raise enough money to pay for the fireworks and pay the city to be allowed to display the fireworks.  Once again, I’ll use Mira Mesa as an example. A committee of volunteers raises $20,000 a year to fund and manage a fireworks display in Mira Mesa on the 4th of July.

To join a group of local volunteers, it is best to start with your local town council. You will find a list of them at the end of this post.

Do you ever have an opinion on what should be added to your local community park? You may assume that someone working in city government has the only say on what equipment is included in a park. But, who has better knowledge of what will be used in a local park than the citizens who will be using it.  That is why many local community volunteers have established Park & Rec Councils, who have a significant voice in what gets built. (To see if your community has a Park & Rec Council, review the town council web sites for your community at the end of this post. If your community does not have park council, consider starting one.) For other Park & Rec volunteer opportunities, visit the City of San Diego web site.

Have you heard rumors about a proposed redevelopment project in your local area?  Do you think a new roadway needs to be built to relieve traffic congestion?  Become a volunteer and join your local community planning group.  Not only will you learn about the latest development proposals, you will also get to influence how it looks, what is included, and decide whether it fits the character of the surrounding area. Just about every community within the City of San Diego has a Community Planning Group made-up of volunteers. Even the City Planning Commission is made up of volunteers. You don’t need to be an expert to join.  All you need is an interest in making your community a better place to live and a willingness to learn.  (I had a professional background in accounting when I joined a local board and actively served for six years.)

Have you seen “police” type cars driving around your community that say R.S.V.P on the side? That’s the Retired Senior Volunteer Patrol. They provide an added security presence in our neighborhoods, check on our homes when we are away on vacation, and assist police when needed.

As I’ve hopefully demonstrated, you can see there are many functions that you may have assumed were taken care of by the government but are actually supported by armies of volunteers. This is the real ‘grassroots’ movement in government. Get involved to help improve the livability of your community. Visit the City of San Diego Volunteer page for a list of opportunities ranging from the City Attorney’s office to the Water Department. Further down this post, you will find links to numerous town councils in San Diego. (Most of the smaller cities in San Diego County do not have local town councils but do rely on many volunteers at the city level.)

Volunteer to Improve our San Diego Attractions

You may assume that taxes pay for employees to clean our beaches and benefactors pay for those who work at top attractions.  You are right on this count, but only to a certain extent.  Again, it takes armies of volunteers to keep our tourist attractions in tip-top shape for our out-of-town visitors.  Tourism brings a lot of cash into San Diego.  It takes a lot of work from volunteers to ensure our visitors return home telling stories to their friends and neighbors that will encourage them to visit our city, the beaches, mountains, and desert.

The beaches are the first thing most travelers associate with San Diego. To help keep them clean, organizations such as the Surfrider Foundation and San Diego Coastkeeper, organize beach cleanups. You can join the aforementioned groups every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month. If you have a group of volunteers who want to help keep our beaches clean, adopt a local beach with I Love a Clean San Diego.

If you like wildlife, consider volunteering with the San Diego Zoo or the Chula Vista Nature Center. If it is art that attracts your interest, volunteer with the San Diego Museum of Art or the Museum of Contemporary Art. There are hundreds of tourist attractions in San Diego all in need of volunteers. You can easily find one that matches your hobbies and interests by visiting a new Theme Based Travel web site I put together for San Diego. Whether you have an interest in trains, planes, flower gardens, or just about anything else you can think of, there is a San Diego attraction that wants your help. Make an effort to become a dedicated volunteer in 2009 and help tourists who share the same interests as you.

Town Councils in San Diego

As noted earlier, here is a list of town councils in San Diego that offer web sites with detailed information on their communities.  If I’ve missed yours, please add it in the comments below.

Happy New Year!

Cardiff Town Council

Carmel Mountain Ranch Community Council Association

Carmel Valley Community Links

Clairemont Town Council

Elfin Forest / Harmony Grove Town Council

Hillcrest Town Council

La Jolla Town Council

Mid-City Community Advocacy Network (City Heights, Normal Heights, Oak Park, Darnall, Rolando, College Area, Kensington, Talmadge)

Mira Mesa Town Council

Mission Beach Town Council

Mission Hills Town Council

Ocean Beach Town Council

Rancho Penasquitos Town Council

Pacific Beach Town Council

Scripps Ranch Civic Association

Serra Mesa Town Council

Tierrasanta Community Council

University City Community Association

List of Town Council meeting times in Council District 4 for the City of San Diego. (I did not find web sites for the town councils on this list.)

San Diego Communities – This web site from the San Diego Futures Foundation lists information for each community in San Diego County.

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One Response to “Volunteer Opportunities in San Diego”

  1. What a fantastic list and an incredible service to San Diego! Thank you for being such an advocate for volunteering in our community. May I also suggest Volunteer San Diego (www.volunteersandiego.org) as an easy place to start. On our website, individuals can browse a huge variety of projects all over the county with over 500 community organizations! We’re here to make volunteering as easy as possible. Thank you again and keep up the great service!

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