Get Involved: Check Out Our Guide to Find an Organization That Fits Your Interests


= Flexible/varies
= A few hours a month
= A few hours a week

The Cleveland Foodbank, (216) 738-2265

Think of it as the mother ship for Northeast Ohio hunger centers. In the past year, the Cleveland Foodbank has collected and distributed 27 million pounds of food and served 450 food pantries, shelters and hot meal programs in six counties. Demand is up 26 percent this year, the biggest yearly increase in the Foodbank’s 30-year history.

DO: Help in the warehouse sorting and packaging food, or prep hot meals in the Cleveland Community Kitchen.

DONATE: Every dollar buys four meals, or donate one of the “super six” most-needed items: beef stew, canned soup, canned vegetables, cereal, peanut butter or tuna fish.

ALSO CONSIDER: Lakewood Christian Service Center, Lakewood,, (216) 226-6466; Euclid Hunger Task Force, Euclid,, (216) 731-3329; Maple Heights Food Pantry, Maple Heights, (216) 365-2842

Friend-to-Friend, (216) 861-183

On the premise that everyone needs a friend, Friend-to-Friend matches volunteers with same-gender inmates at local state prisons and asks them to simply visit once a month for a few hours. “You don’t have to worry about what to talk about; it’s more about listening than anything else,” says program manager Steve Messner, himself a volunteer who’s on his seventh match since 1996. Messner asks for a one-year commitment from volunteers though some matches have lasted up to five years. More than 180 formerly incarcerated locals have benefited from Friend-to-Friend while 37 inmates are currently receiving visits.

DO: Men in particular are needed for matches with male inmates at Grafton Correctional Institution in Lorain County, and women receive matches at the Northeast Pre-Release Center downtown.

Building Hope in the City, (216) 281-4673

When 15 Burundian refugees showed up on the doorstep of Building Hope in the City three years ago, the staff discovered how little support was available for the growing number of refugees resettled here. “There are 500 to 600 refugees resettled in [Northeast Ohio] each year,” says Building Hope’s Brian Upton. ”Catholic Charities, [the government-contracted case managers for local refugees], gets only six months of dollars from the government to resettle them; then, they have to move on.” To help ease that transition, Building Hope started The Hope Center for Refugees and Immigrants, which provides mentoring and support for new arrivals.

DO: “Adopt” a refugee family to visit once a week to be a friend, shop with them or help with other basic tasks. “You’d be surprised by how much your presence helps them in their confidence when they have their new American friend in line with them at Kmart,” Upton says.

DONATE: Funds help provide English classes for refugee families, after-school programming for their children, and transportation to jobs and

ALSO CONSIDER: Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services, regionwide,, (216) 281-7005

Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, (216) 619-6194

The only free advocacy organization for victims of sexual violence in Cuyahoga County provides crisis support through its 24-hour hot line and ongoing justice system advocacy and therapy to 10,000 people every year.

DO: Staff the crisis hot line, or serve as a face-to-face advocate for victims of sexual assault. No experience is required, and the rape crisis center provides 40 hours of free training. >>

DONATE: Useful items include girly stuff such as nail polish and perfume for the center’s teen empowerment conference, Girls Kick Butt, or personal care items for survivors in the emergency department. Every $1,000 pays for 20 therapy hours for an adult rape survivor.

ALSO CONSIDER: Lorain County Rape Crisis Center, Lorain, (440) 282-2795; Rape Crisis Center of Medina and Summit Counties, Akron,, (330) 374-0740, ext.122; Lake County Victim Assistance Program, Painesville, (440) 360-2691

Women’s Center of Greater Cleveland, (216) 651-1450

This drug and alcohol treatment program for women served 2,100 women and their families last year, providing support not just to kick their habits but also to stabilize the life circumstances that often cause relapse.

DO: Become a part of the Women’s Center’s unique annual fundraising event — a three-day sports festival called run,jane,run. It’s a women-only golf outing, volleyball tournament, and 5K and 10K race in one. Graduates of the center share their stories.

DONATE: Clothes and personal care items for women and children are always needed, and cash donations support treatment and child care for indigent women.

ALSO CONSIDER: Freedom House for Women, Akron,, (330) 785-9720

Rebuilding Together, (216) 556-3265

Helping Clevelanders stay in their homes is the goal of Rebuilding Together, which hosts Rebuilding Day every summer to repair and rehab the homes of low-income families and seniors. “The typical home-owner we serve has been in their home 35 years and needs help with the cost and labor to maintain their home,” says executive director Sheila Lee. “Otherwise, they’re often cited by housing court or experience enormous energy bills.” Last year 200 Cleveland homeowners applied, but funds were available for only 20 homes to be rehabbed.

DO: Rebuilding Day is June 26, 2010. Rebuilding Together will supply the tools. You bring the elbow grease for everything from painting and minor carpentry to landscaping and trash removal. Tradespeople are particularly needed.

DONATE: Contributions help with the cost of the paint, brushes, work gloves and other supplies.

ALSO CONSIDER: Habitat for Humanity of Ohio, regionwide, to search for local affiliate

The City Mission, (216) 431-3510 

Next year marks 100 years of The City Mission’s work with the homeless, urban poor and incarcerated in Cleveland. The organization relies on about 900 active volunteers to serve 3,500 men, women and children with basic needs such as shelter, food and clothing.

DO: Serve a meal, visit an inmate, sort donated clothing, tutor youth, or teach life skills or résumé-writing classes to homeless men and women.

DONATE: Eighty percent of your monetary donation goes directly to The City Mission’s services, or consider donating such items as diapers, twin sheet sets for its 254 beds or used washers, dryers, vans or kitchen appliances.

ALSO CONSIDER: Haven of Rest Ministries, Akron,, (330) 535-1563; Refuge of Hope Ministries, Canton,, (330) 453-1785; Catholic Charities Family Centers, regionwide,, (216) 334-2900


The MetroHealth System, (216) 778-7800

Forget those candy striper stereotypes; today, volunteerism at MetroHealth Medical Center goes way beyond Jell-O delivery. Join a volunteer force 600-plus strong at the main campus of MetroHealth Medical Center or at one of its 12 outpatient health centers or two skilled-nursing centers. Volunteers can read to pediatric patients in outpatient clinics or interview long-term care patients and collect their memories for family members.

DO: Professional and amateur musicians and vocalists are needed to perform for patients and families through Metro’s new Spirit of Music program.

DONATE: Give to the MetroHealth fund that hits closest to your heart, such as the Oncology Patient Care, Education and Research Fund for cancer support or the Care for Those in Need Fund to support care for the needy.

ALSO CONSIDER: Summa Health System, Akron area,, (330) 375-3247; Cleveland Clinic, regionwide,, (216) 445-6986

Easter Seals Northern Ohio, (440) 324-6600

This national nonprofit has deep Ohio roots, starting with its founding by Elyria businessman Edgar Allen in 1919. Today, Easter Seals Northern Ohio serves adults and kids with disabilities in 27 counties with medical, educational and recreational services.

DO: Man the scavenger hunt at Walk With Me, lend a party-planning hand at the Single in the City Bachelor & Bachelorette Auction, or help children and adults with disabilities fish and do crafts at the summer day camps or adult day programs.

DONATE: Donations fund such programs as camperships to help parents of children with disabilities afford special-needs camps or medical equipment loans to needy families.

ALSO CONSIDER: New Avenues to Independence, Cleveland,, (216) 481-1907; Hattie Larlham, Mantua,, (330) 274-2272

Youth Challenge, (440) 892-1001

This sports program for kids with physical disabilities goes beyond just providing adaptive equipment. It pairs teen volunteers one-to-one with participants to create fun and friendships through bowling, ice hockey, golf, fishing and more. Older participants are also mobilized to volunteer according to their abilities.

DO: Send your 12- to 18-year-olds to help with after-school sports programs. Many start coming to fulfill school service requirements, says Youth Challenge’s Sarah Perez-Stable, “but the more they come, it becomes a place to hang with their friends.”

DONATE: Transportation and programming is free to participants, so your $1,500 gift sponsors one child for one year.

The Free Medical Clinic of Greater Cleveland, (216) 721-4010

The largest free clinic in Ohio serves 10,000 patients a year with basic medical and dental services, HIV/AIDS testing and education, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and more. Volunteers keep the doors open. They outnumber paid staff 5-to-1, which includes only two part-time physicians and two full-time nurse practitioners.

DO: The Free Clinic needs plenty of health care professionals to volunteer. Others receive training to help with the HIV/AIDS testing program, patient intake, and health education and community outreach events.

DONATE: A large majority of donations go directly to patient care and pharmaceutical costs.

ALSO CONSIDER: Lake County Free Medical and Dental Clinic, Painesville,, (440) 352-8686; Lorain County Free Clinic, Lorain,, (440) 277-6641; Open M Free Clinic, Akron,, (330) 434-0110

Jennings Center for Older Adults, (216) 581-2900

The nonprofit Jennings Center boasts something for every senior, from independent and assisted living to nursing and specialized Alzheimer’s care in a campus setting. But don’t expect stark walls and somber moods here — residents can visit the on-site beauty shop and wellness center, hit the gift shop, participate in games and activities or play with local kids in the colocated child care center. “This isn’t your grandmother’s nursing home anymore,” says CEO Martha Kutik.

DO: Help transport residents from their rooms to the beauty shop, offer your Hands Helping Hands with basic nail care and hand/arm massage, or participate in Jennings’ pet therapy program or special events.

DONATE: Donations help subsidize care for the 75 percent of nursing home residents on Medicaid, on which Jennings loses $30 a day per patient.

ALSO CONSIDER: The Advocate of Not-for-Profit Services for Older Ohioans, and search for member facilities by county


RePlay for Kids, 866-9-REPLAY

Case Western Reserve University biomedical engineer Bill Memberg responded to an ad 20 years ago looking for help fixing toys for kids with disabilities. Tinkering with adapted toys “because it was fun” led Memberg to found RePlay for Kids in 1999, which now adapts and repairs toys for 19 agencies in eight counties.

DO: Recruit 10 or more friends for a few hours to add specialized switches to toys that allow kids with disabilities to activate them with a puff on a tube or a head movement. RePlay will visit you, and there’s no technical experience required though Memberg does need handy folks to oversee workshops.

DONATE: Give new or gently used battery-operated toys or money to help Memberg purchase toys, tools and supplies.

The Intergenerational School, (216) 721-0120

Tutoring is hardly the word to describe volunteers’ contributions at The Intergenerational School, a 208-student community charter elementary school located inside Fairhill Partners Center for Aging. Older adults are integral to the school’s curriculum and culture, which even welcomes individuals suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s. And it’s working: Intergenerational School received the state’s highest academic rating of “excellent” last year.

DO: The school’s greatest need is for “reading mentors” to work one-on-one on reading skills, but volunteers can also oversee a hobby club, be an arts mentor or participate in Chess for Success.

DONATE: Contribute school supplies, computer equipment or furniture, or visit to sponsor an Intergenerational School class.

ALSO CONSIDER: Experience Corps, throughout Cleveland Metropolitan School District,, (216) 391-9500

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cleveland, (216) 621-8223

“We do just one thing: Place a caring adult in the life of a child,” says CEO Margaret Mitchell. In school and community settings, Big Brothers Big Sisters makes mentoring matches between volunteers and youth at various stages of the at-risk scale. The organization oversaw more than 1,000 matches last year.

DO: A “Big” is required only to establish a relationship with their matched “Little” and then have some fun — catch a Cavs game, go fishing, drop by their school for lunch, or drive them to a college visit. “When you’re talking about making real transformational change [in a child’s life], it’s made through relationships,” Mitchell says. The average match lasts 2 1/2 years, though Big Brothers Big Sisters asks for a one-year commitment.

DONATE: A $1,000 gift supports the creation and support of one match for one year.

ALSO CONSIDER: Big Brothers Big Sisters of Summit/Medina Counties, Akron (330) 376-6503 and Medina (330) 725-8455,; Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Ohio, Painesville,, (440) 352-2526

Seeds of Literacy, (216) 661-7950

Dropout rates are high among classroom-style GED and adult literacy programs, so Seeds of Literacy offers free, one-on-one tutoring that achieves double the retention rate of the national average. Students range in age from 18 to 60-plus yet typically read at a fourth-grade level.

DO: Become a tutor for day or evening courses. Seeds of Literacy provides free training, and there’s no prior teaching experience required.

DONATE: Without any state or federal funding, Seeds relies on donations to purchase books and supplies, train tutors and recruit students.

ALSO CONSIDER: Project: Learn of Medina County,, (330) 723-1314; Project: Learn of Summit County,, (330) 434-9461

Camp Ho Mita Koda, (216) 591-0800

A program of the Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland, Camp Ho Mita Koda gives kids with diabetes a traditional summer camp experience with the specialized care they need. More than 300 kids ages 6 to 15 descend on this 72-acre Newbury camp each summer for three-, five- or 12-day sessions.

DO: This spring, help paint and clean cabins, set up for programs, and spruce up the grounds. Then, return in the fall to winterize the gardens, chop firewood and pack away those craft supplies. Miss that camp experience? Volunteer as a summer activity instructor.

DONATE: No child is turned away for inability to pay, so $375 will cover one child’s five-day program.

ALSO CONSIDER: Camp Cheerful, Strongsville,, (440) 238-6200; Camp Nuhop, Ashland,, (419) 289-2227


Safety for Animals and Families in Emergencies, (216) 970-3035

Leaving a domestic violence situation creates a quandary for pet owners: Take Fido along into an uncertain future, or leave him behind in a dangerous one? SAFE provides temporary care for pets of victims in domestic violence situations (and of those dealing with foreclosures and medical emergencies) “so they can leave and know their pet is safe,” says SAFE’s Heather McNally Milko.

DO: Foster an animal in your home (typically 30 to 60 days), or help with animal pick-up and drop-off.

DONATE: A grant covers medical care at the Animal Protective League, but donations help offset the costs of food and preventative medicines.

Lake Erie Nature & Science Center, (440) 871-2900, ext. 215

This nature center offers a planetarium and indoor and outdoor wildlife and aquatic exhibits year-round. Its wildlife rehabilitation program also takes in about 1,000 injured and ill animals a year.

DO: Volunteers help care for and feed animals on exhibit and those undergoing rehabilitation. Participate in the nature center’s wildlife education by toting your favorite critter among visitors.

DONATE: Contributions underwrite care and feeding of animals on exhibit and in rehab, as well as operating costs of this free nature center. Make a general donation or Adopt-an-Animal such as your favorite fox, gecko or snake.

ALSO CONSIDER: Penitentiary Glen Nature Center, Kirtla
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