I'm a working mom with little kids. Is there any volunteer work I can do between 4 a.m. and…

Advice on how to make the world better.
Feb. 18 2009 6:55 AM

Charity Begins at Home

I'm a working mom with little kids. Is there any volunteer work I can do between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.?

Dear Patty and Sandy,

What are some good ways to help others when you are a working mother of very small children? It is easy enough to decide where to send our pittance of charity dollars every month. But it's harder to give of myself. Are there any good options for those useful hours between 4 a.m and 6 a.m?

—Casey

Patty:
Casey, your idea of using the wee hours of the morning is admirable, but I would also caution you to take care of yourself. You want your "Goodness" to last for the long haul!

Too many of us trot out the excuse, "I want to volunteer, but I can't get there because ..."  Thanks to the Internet, phone, and virtual work of all kinds, that is no longer viable. "Virtual volunteering" is now a big part of the volunteer sector. My 84-year-old mom has a tough time getting around in the winter, but she volunteers from her living room as a phone screener for families seeking social services. She is not alone. There are "virtual jobs" of all kinds that can be done from your home and have real impact on issues you care about—from part-time Web designer, to fundraiser, to Wikipedia content screener, to homework tutor. If you want to go global, even the United Nations has a great resource for online volunteering.

Whether you are co-opting your playgroup to talk about the need for better local parks or becoming a virtual volunteer, start with an issue you care about and have energy for—and then decide what time commitment you can make. Be sure to aim low—better to underpromise and overdeliver than to disappoint an already-strapped nonprofit.

Sandy:
My mom is absolutely right that virtual volunteer opportunities abound and are increasing daily. Kids who grew up on the Internet are pushing NGOs to use the Web to their benefit and harness the goodwill of people exactly like you. If you can't find a virtual volunteering job right up your alley, contact an organization whose work you admire and offer your services. The organization might be willing to start a virtual volunteer program.

Overworked Mom.
Harried mom

One thing that small service or advocacy organizations often have the hardest time with is their communications and outreach. They don't have the staff to do all the work it takes to stay in the public eye. This kind of communications work is something that can easily be done by volunteers working from home. Offer your services, stay current on their issues in the news, and let them know where you see opportunities for media coverage or community engagement. Blog, Twitter, or Facebook about them—anything to get them on the map and encourage like-minded individuals to donate their time or money.

If you want something more concrete and interactive, another idea is to participate in an online mentoring program. You can e-mentor students as close as the local junior high or as far away as Africa, which might be ideal, given your time constraints. A good program should have an application process, a background check, and a thorough training program. Just type "mentor" into Volunteer Match's virtual volunteering section, and you'll find tons of organizations looking for volunteers.

As the youngster of the team, I also want to point out the excellent and possibly unconsidered benefit of your efforts: the wonderful example volunteering sets for your children. Kids who grow up in households where their parents volunteer are more likely to do so themselves—and when they start working at the local food bank in the afternoons, you can shift your hours to join them and sleep in a bit!

Do you have a real-life do-gooding dilemma? Please send it to ask.my.goodness@gmail.com and Patty and Sandy will try to answer it.

In our ongoing effort to do better ourselves, we're donating 25 percent of the proceeds from this column to ONE.org—an organization committed to raising public awareness about the issues of global poverty, hunger, and disease and the efforts to fight such problems in the world's poorest countries.

Patty Stonesifer is the chair of the Smithsonian Institution Board of Regents and a senior adviser to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, where she was president, then CEO for 10 years. She spent the first two decades of her career in the technology business, where her last job was senior vice president at Microsoft.

Sandy Stonesifer works on issues related to adolescent girls' health at a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore

And schools are getting worried.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

The XX Factor

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

Why a Sketch of Chelsea Manning Is Stirring Up Controversy

How Worried Should Poland, the Baltic States, and Georgia Be About a Russian Invasion?

Trending News Channel
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 20 2014 11:13 AM -30-
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 20 2014 3:21 PM “The More You Know (About Black People)” Uses Very Funny PSAs to Condemn Black Stereotypes
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 21 2014 8:00 AM An Astronaut’s Guided Video Tour of Earth
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.