On Vacation? Time To Volunteer!

 In Family Matters, Just Causes, OBX Community
mike waters appalachian state

Mike Waters, volunteer group organizer from Appalachian State University, cheerfully opts for the heavy hauling of mulch through Nags Head Woods. Photo by Kevin Groat.

You work hard all year. You look forward to your week at the beach. If you’re lucky, maybe two. You save for it. You spend countless hours planning your trip, deciding what activities you’ll do.

Parasailing? Jet skiing? Charter a boat and go deep-sea fishing?

If you are like my wife, you start putting together your checklist of what to bring several weeks early. You even start your packing a week early. Sunblock. Check! Sunglasses. Check! Cellphone charger. Check! Work schedule?

Wait! Wha?!?!?

Yes, some vacationers actually come to the Outer Banks and mix in volunteer work with their leisure activities and relaxing days on the beach.

“We get out-of-town volunteers quite frequently,” says Melissa Tate, former growth and community outreach coordinator of the Outer Banks SPCA. “Typically it’s a family or a couple visiting for the week. Many of the volunteers are from Pennsylvania, Virginia and western North Carolina. This year, we even had a family from Sweden come volunteer.”

The Outer Banks SPCA, located on Roanoke Island, is not the only organization that benefits from vacationing volunteers.

Beach Food Pantry Executive Director Theresa Armendarez says her organization also gets help from out-of-towners. “Visitors tend to find us through the Pantry’s website and are people that just want to give back,” she said.

Though volunteers most often donate their time to the Pantry, Armendarez is also quick to point out that volunteering comes in many different shapes andsizes. “Oftentimes, at the end of their vacation, tourists will stop by the Pantry to drop off unused food.”

appalachian student volunteers obx

Students spread nearly a mile or more of mulch on the trails throughout Nags Head Woods. Photo by Kevin Groat.

Curious about the typical person that each organization sees as a volunteer, My Outer Banks Home asked both Tate and Armendarez why they thought vacationers, who one would assume are down on the beach recharging their batteries from everyday life, would take the time to help out.

Interestingly enough, their answers were quite similar.

“It seems a lot of the time it’s a family wanting to do something worthwhile together – a group project that brings them closer,” Tate explains.

Theresa Armendarez adds, “It’s usually a one-time thing for families on vacation and it ultimately helps teach kids to be responsible adults.”

Raleigh Wesley Foundation

College students from the Raleigh Wesley Foundation teamed up to help tackle hunger at the Beach Food Pantry.

The activities vary from organization to organization. “At the SPCA, volunteers can spend time taking dogs out for a walk around the property,” Tate explains. “They may also choose to sign up for our field trip or sleepover programs in which they can give a shelter dog an awesome day at the beach, a walk around downtown Manteo, the Elizabethan Gardens, or wherever they’re spending the day.”

Tate continues, “We love this program because the dogs get extra socialization and enrichment from volunteers, and the volunteers can share what they’ve learned about the dog during their outing. Then our staff members can take that information to help the dog find the right family.”

“Often vacationing volunteers are involved in their own local shelter, so they enjoy meeting our animals and learning about our programs while they’re on vacation. They share their ideas and experiences with us and vice versa. It can be a great learning opportunity for all involved.”

Over at the Beach Pantry, located at milepost 4 in Kitty Hawk, volunteers are typically stocking or putting food items on shelves or in freezers.

“Usually we’ll see volunteers about five times per summer,” Armendarez said.

And it’s not just individuals or families who volunteer, but also college groups as well. Both the SCPA and the Beach Food Pantry sees these types of groups regularly, as does the Nags Head Woods Preserve.

According to Conservation Coordinator Jennifer Gilbreath, “There isn’t much in terms of individual volunteering, but during the spring and fall break, college groups are a huge asset.”

Armendarez agrees that the college students who come down and spend their time helping out energize the entire staff. She also points to the Girl Scouts and other youth groups as being valuable to the pantry’s volunteer base.

Kirk Oldham, Campus Minister of the Raleigh Wesley Foundation, a United Methodist Campus Ministry comprised of mostly NC State students, made a trip to the Outer Banks and the Beach Pantry this past September with his group.

volunteer OBX SPCA

A group of volunteers have fun entertaining a shelter dog.

“I remember it quite well. It was my birthday and the students and I had a great weekend trip for a retreat that we also made into a service project. We spent a couple of hours cleaning out refrigerators, restocking shelves and weighed and sorted a new food delivery.” Oldham continues, “We’ve made other mission trips in the past, following a couple of hurricanes, but this trip really helped us bond as a group and we will definitely be back again to help out the pantry.”

So if you are moved to volunteer during your next vacation on the Outer Banks, please consider spending some time giving back. If not as a whole family, then perhaps for just an hour or so by yourself. You may find that it is not only the perfect way to give back to the community you love to vacation in, but also a great way to meet and mingle with the local crowd.♦

Greg Smrdel

Greg Smrdel, while his physical body lives in Ohio (for now), his soul will always remain on the Outer Banks.

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