Ikea Is Bringing Home To Refugees

Via BetterShelter.org


When people think of Ikea they usually picture ready-to-assemble furniture and appliances that give your living space that modern, almost sterile look.

What they usually don’t picture is a global charitable foundation that has worked on huge projects with numerous nonprofits. The Ikea Foundation is actually a very well-established charitable organization whose main focus is giving children living in poverty and poor conditions the opportunity to create a better future for themselves.


Via TakeShelter.org

Via BetterShelter.org


The latest project that the Ikea Foundation is working on has sprouted out of their self-created social enterprise Better Shelter, which is on a mission to deliver 10,000 shelters (designed by Ikea, of course) to refugees in Iraq in partnership with the United Nations. We learned about this project when we came upon this Take Part article last week; which explains that each of these shelters comes equipped with solar panels, mosquito nets, lights, and ventilation. They also come with lockable doors and are said to last up to three years, which is a huge improvement from the current handful of months that the traditional shelters last.


Via TakeShelter.org

Via BetterShelter.org


With these shelters, Ikea will be improving the quality of life for a good chunk of the more than two million refugees who are currently living in Iraq. Big ideas like this one show how Ikea is truly a leader in the movement where corporations are using their resources and power for social good. Once other corporations start to recognize how projects like this one are benefitting both Ikea, itself, and the world around it they too will hopefully begin to take on similar social good projects. When you think about it, why wouldn’t a ready-to-assemble furniture company help create ready-to-assemble shelters for people in need? Why can’t a major beverage company help provide water to those who have little to no access to clean water?


Here at Idealist we’re on a mission to build a world where everyone is able to live free and dignified lives. We believe this is accomplished through connecting people with other people and resources so that individuals are able to turn their good intentions into successful actions. Organizations and corporations, which already have huge networks of people and a myriad of resources, are a vital part in this plan. If every organization that has extra resources or people with appropriate skills for a task already rounded up gave just a little by donating those resources or utilizing those people’s combined skills we would be that much closer to living in this free and dignified world.

What’s a corporation that gives back or engages in projects of social good that you absolutely love? Let us know!

#MicroDay – Every Second Counts

The biggest reason we see people come up with for why they don’t volunteer is that they simply don’t have enough time to put aside and do so.

Well, today marks the second annual Microvolunteering Day, which is a day meant to encourage people to get out and engage in volunteer opportunities that are both quick and easy but still beneficial towards the cause! It’s understandable to be busy, most people are these days, but whether you have a free Saturday for service or five seconds to spare there are numerous ways for you to help different causes in this day and age. So, here are five different microvolunteering opportunities you could participate in.


1. Volunteer For A Day

The truth of the matter is that even the busiest of us often have a Saturday or Sunday off once in a while that we could totally use to sign up for a day-long volunteer opportunity. These opportunities tend to revolve around events or projects and are often in fun, team-like environments!

NBC via Giphy
2. Help For A Few Hours

If you don’t have a full day to dedicate then maybe you want to volunteer to help out for a few hours on a smaller project such as a clean up or volunteer for one shift in a multiple shift event. Never be afraid to ask if there is anything that you can do to help even if you can’t be there for a whole day!

Via Giphy
3. Complete A Task

Maybe you don’t even have a continuous few hours to volunteer but you find yourself with a few minutes here and there that you could use for small things like writing an article or taking a survey. Organizations often need participants to help them with simple tasks such as these and they can’t accomplish their overall goals without them, so never think there’s such a thing as not enough time to help!

Youtube via Giphy
4. Spread Awareness

Of course there are those of you who don’t even have five minutes to volunteer because the truth is that there aren’t enough hours in the day for you to accomplish everything you need to as is. If this is the case then consider becoming an advocate for a cause in that you integrate spreading awareness into your current lifestyle. You could simply talk about the issue on social media through your mobile device or make it so that your life is a living ad for the cause!

MTV via Giphy
5. Donate

The final and easiest way for you to volunteer (your resources, at least) is to donate to a cause that needs it and that you feel strongly about. If you feel like you simply don’t have the time to volunteer yourself what-so-ever then maybe you want to consider a resource that you have. This can be money or any other item that may be of use to an organization!

Via Giphy

At Idealist, we find volunteering to be a vital part of creating a world where everyone is able to live free and dignified lives. Since it’s #NationalVolunteerWeek we are highlighting the different aspects that we see people deal with when deciding to volunteer. We understand that one of those aspects is finding time to be able to volunteer, and that often people can’t find that time at all. So, with these microvolunteering ideas that even the busiest of us can participate in head on over to the action opportunities page and find an ask that fits YOUR schedule!


Matching Your Volunteering Style To Your Zodiac Sign


A common obstacle that we find many people run into when they first decide to volunteer is that they have no clue where they should even start.


When you think about it, who can blame them? First you have to figure out what cause to volunteer for, which can seem near impossible most of the time (How on EARTH are you suppose to dedicate yourself to just ONE cause?!). Next you have to decide where and when you want to volunteer (Who has time for anything with how busy we are these days?). Finally, you need to figure out how you can best be utilized given your specific skill set (Does anyone ever actually know where they fit best?).

So, there I was with all of these questions, trying to figure out how to best guide people in answering them on their own, and I found myself getting lost in the endless possibilities that were before me. That’s when I came upon this gem, The Llewellyn Journal article “Using Astrology To Determine Your Volunteering Style”. Thus, if you’re anything like me and you can’t fathom answering all of these questions properly on your own then why not let the cosmos do so for you?

Below are descriptions of the best types of volunteer opportunities for each of the zodiac signs according to The Llewellyn Journal.



Being the first sign of the zodiac, you are a born initiator and should partake in the launch of an initiative or project. You are best fitted for rescue work, crisis intervention, coaching roles, or being a presenter.

Via Giphy

As an earth sign, you flourish in hands-on, active positions such a constructing something. You are talented in the arts and very patient, which makes you a great fit for working with the youth or elderly.

Paramount via Giphy

Your versatility makes you a strong volunteer, but finding one cause to commit yourself to may be difficult. You thrive in situations that allow you to be social  and you have a knack for literature.

Nickelodeon via Giphy

You’re best suited for a position that allows you to be caring and nurturing, such as a nursing home or homeless shelter. Many Cancers love being in the kitchen, so if you are one of those then you may want to consider a soup kitchen or something similar.

Via Giphy

Being naturally people-oriented, you make a great fit for a leadership role. You may want to consider overseeing the organization of an event, coaching a team, or something similar that puts you at the front of the line.

Marvel via Giphy

You are the most service-oriented sign of them all and do best in situations where you get tangible results. Any hands-on opportunity is one for you, but you especially enjoy causes that are trying to conserve the environment or well-being of animals.

Via Giphy

People tend to warm up to and trust you much easier than the other signs which makes you a great candidate for any position dealing with calming influence or attentive listening. You may want to try a help hotline or some type of mediation if you are trained in the field.

Cartoon Network via Giphy

Your strength makes you the best sign for volunteer work in crisis prevention and care. You are warm and understanding much like the Libras of the world, but you also have a confidence that allows you to be more hands-on. Hospice, substance abuse centers, and domestic violence shelters are all great fits for you.

Nickelodeon via Giphy

You work best in a position that allows you freedom but is extremely active, such as caring for people or animals on your own. You tend to be very interested in diversity and cultural differences from around the world, so an ethnic center would be a great fit as well.

Paramount via Giphy

You are known for your work ethic and resourcefulness, which makes you a valuable asset in the volunteer world. You do well in positions that allow you to teach others to help themselves in the long-run.

Via Giphy

You flourish in positions that allow you to share your vision and sense of community. You tend to be extremely committed to the cause and you make a great team player all around.

Via Giphy

Your empathy and generosity makes you a great volunteer for causes dealing with animals and communities. It’s important to note that your empathy also makes you sensitive and therefore you should set boundaries for yourself as to not get in too deep.

Warner Bros via Giphy


At Idealist, we find volunteering to be a vital part of creating a world where everyone is able to live free and dignified lives. Since it is #NationalVolunteerWeek we are highlighting many different aspects that we see people deal with when deciding to volunteer. So, whether you’re a Virgo, an Aquarius or any other sign head over to the volunteer search and find the perfect opportunity for you!

Handmade To The Streets

HTTS Website

You know those brisk fall nights when you’re camping in the woods with family or friends, and you burrow into your sleeping bag but just can’t seem to get warm enough no matter what you do?


Could you imagine feeling that way every single night?


Ashleyann Burnett had this very thought one day when she noticed a man on MLK Boulevard in Portland, Oregon sheltering himself with only a sheet. After witnessing him attempting to make himself comfortable over and over she knew she needed to help him. This small epiphany quickly spawned a much larger idea when Ashleyann realized that there are hundreds of thousands of people in this same situation all across the United States. Thus, Handmade To The Streets was born, and Ashleyann along with her husband, Tyler, set out to provide versatile, handmade blankets to as many people experiencing homelessness as possible.

HTTP Website

Handmade To The Streets’ blankets are made to be warm, compact, and durable to be as best fitted to the lifestyle of someone living on the streets as possible. Each blanket is wrapped in a strap with a handle so that they can be slung around one’s shoulder and easily carried.

Currently, Handmade To The Streets is a small, two-person operation with Ashleyann and Tyler doing as much as they can on their own. So far, they have been passing out blankets as well as ‘street kits’ filled with essential items that individuals living on the streets could gravely use around Portland. But Ashleyann and Tyler wonder why stop here?

Their goals, as stated on their Kickstarter page, include becoming a 501c3 nonprofit, applying for a design patent, and increasing their materials for larger production.

Ashleyann noticed something wrong with the world when she saw that man struggling simply to keep himself warm. More importantly though, she saw an opportunity where she could utilize her skills and resources to truly make a positive difference in other people’s lives. Now she sees that with the help of others’ skills and resources as well she can magnify her effort tenfold.

HTTP Website

 At Idealist we believe that ensuring great ideas like this one reach the people needed to bring them into full bloom is vital in creating positive change in the world. Too often good ideas with the ability to change the world never see the light of day due to lack of skills or resources needed to make them sustainable. We’re on a mission to make sure that great ideas like this one are able to reach people who not only have the means to help but the desire to do so as well. 

What’s a great idea that you’ve been wondering how to go about bringing to life? Share in the comments!

An Argument for Doing Something More



“Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.”


So said Chuang Tzu, preeminent Taoist thinker, some 25 hundred years ago. Nonetheless, there is a whole industry catering to people who approach happiness as something to be hunted down in self-help books, courses, new age practices, and life coaches.

Via Giphy.com

On the opposite end of the spectrum, many of us feel that our happiness is constantly bombarded with negative messages: angsty status updates from friends and family on Facebook and Twitter, awful news headlines, and advertising that plays on our worst insecurities. Our response: switch off, log-out, and block.

Universal via Giphy.com

How often do you read a bad-news article and feel powerless to help, disengaged from your community or from the larger world, or too overwhelmed by personal responsibilities to actively respond by volunteering, donating, or carrying on the conversation? Although in the short term, it might bode well to close the newspaper and focus on something you readily feel you can do — your job, your domestic tasks — it could be argued that shutting out larger world problems is actually a way of retreating further away from fulfilling your true potential as a person.

Senorgif.com via Giphy.com

Self-actualization is a term that has been manipulated and used in multiple psychological theories throughout time but was originally created by organismic theorist Kurt Goldstein. The idea is that by realizing your full potential you can reach some sort of enlightenment that allows you to actively live the best life possible for yourself. For the sake of this discussion though, let’s specifically reference the 19 Characteristics Of Abraham Maslow’s Self-Actualizer.

What Maslow’s theory entails are 19 unique characteristics he found to be consistent within each of his subjects that have been developed into advice on how one self-actualizes. The foundation of Maslow’s theory is that you not only must understand what is preventing your happiness but you need to face, and resolve, those issues as well. This notion suggests that by avoiding, or retreating, from the issues hindering your happiness you are merely prolonging the process. So, let’s go through each of the characteristics.

  1.     Perception Of Reality

The first trait is that of a superior relationship with reality. This means he or she understands that the unknown is a part of reality and not only is he or she comfortable with that but he or she embraces it with open arms.

Comedy Central via Giphy.com

  1.     Acceptance

The next is the idea that he or she simply accepts himself or herself unconditionally. So much so that the whole idea doesn’t even cross his or her mind.

NBC vis Giphy.com

  1.     Spontaneity

The third coincides with the first in that a self-actualized individual’s behavior is natural and it is not dictated by a forced agenda. In other words, he or she does not take actions simply for the reason of being a plot device that is meant to cause a specific reaction.

Fox via Giphy.com

  1.     Problem Centering

Self-actualizers tend to have goals and a mission in life. They have small things they would like to accomplish in the short-term and large overarching things they would like to accomplish in the long run.

Via Giphy.com

  1.     Solitude

Self-actualizers also tend to value their privacy and time alone slightly more than the average individual.

BBC via Giphy.com

  1.     Autonomy

The sixth trait is that of independence from the need for external accolades or praise. A self-actualizer has realized that inner growth and self-development are much more pertinent to life then these things.

ESPN via Giphy.com

  1.     Fresh Appreciation

Self-actualizing people are able to maintain the appreciation of a child experiencing something new even for the most basic experiences in life. They never allow themselves to feel like they are simply going through the motions.

Universal via Giphy.com

  1.     Peak Experiences

This is the groove that you get into when you are in your element and your focus has never been better. Self-actualizers allow themselves to reach this state more often than most.

Nickelodeon via Giphy.com

  1.     Human Kinship

The ninth trait is the characteristic of universal empathy. Self-actualizers feel as though everyone is family and they have a human connection with every individual they encounter.

NBC via Giphy.com

  1.  Humility and Respect

Self-actualizing people tend to be as humble as they come. They are able to befriend all types of people and could be described as unable to see the superficial differences that are often so important to the average person.

New Line Cinema via Giphy.com

  1.  Interpersonal Relationships

Though they have a connection with mostly everyone, self-actualizers often have small circles of close loved ones. The love they feel for these few is profound and unwavering.

Warner Bros. via Giphy.com

  1.  Ethics

Plain and simple, self-actualizing people have very distinct beliefs on right and wrong and they religiously do what they believe is right.

Warner Bros. via Giphy.com

  1.  Means and Ends

Self-actualizers are true believers in the saying “a means to an end.” They are fixated on ends and not preoccupied with the means.

Disney via Giphy.com

  1.  Humor

They are not amused by hostile, superiority, or authority-rebellion humor and don’t usually consider what the average individual finds to be funny to be funny.

Via Giphy.com

  1.  Creativity

Maslow simply states that this is a universal trait throughout all people who were studied. But basically, self-actualized people find an outlet where they can successfully exercise their creativity.

Via Giphy.com

  1.  Resistance Of Enculturation

Self-actualizers naturally resist enculturation and maintain a distance from the culture they are immersed in. Due to their non-bias nature in all facets of life it makes it difficult for them to be consumed by such a subjective matter.

Focus Features via Giphy.com

  1.  Imperfections

It is important to note that self-actualizers are not perfect. They have negative and mundane characteristics just like everyone else, but they are aware of them and use that knowledge to their advantage.

Via Giphy.com

  1.  Values

Self-actualized people have a strong set of values that they keep close to their heart. These beliefs tend to indoctrinate their lives so that everything they do fits within them.

Paramount via Giphy.com

  1.  Resolution of Dichotomies

The final trait is the idea that the line between selfishness and selflessness disappears because in reality every act is both selfish and selfless.

Via Giphy.com
Now, before you freak out and start to worry about having all of these traits yourself, remember that this was one man’s conclusion from one study. It’s difficult to say that all self-actualized people have all 19 of these traits all of the  time. After all, doesn’t trait number six claim that a self-actualizer wouldn’t be bothered by Maslow’s classification anyway?

The point is that all of these traits have one theme in common: they are all choices that can be made. You can choose whether or not to be terrified by the unknown, whether you want to be limited by society’s standards, limited to your daily responsibilities, or whether you want to take a little leap of faith and start doing something more. Instead of striving for immediate happiness, we might reframe our feelings of discontent in the face of terrifying new headlines and remember that we are part of it, we are connected, and there is someone, somewhere who we could lend a hand to in some small, manageable way.

Via Giphy.com
At Idealist we believe that happiness and doing something more are intrinsically linked. Once you know what you feel would make the future a little better for the world, following through, reaching out to people, nonprofits, and community groups and offering a little time or expertise or money is a tangible step towards achieving self-actualization. We’re on a mission to make sure that fewer opportunities to self-actualize and live happier, healthier lives pass people by.

Via Giphy.com

Idealist is currently one of the world’s preeminent organizations for connecting more than 100,000 nonprofits worldwide and more than a million people each month who can imagine a better future. Visit us at Idealist.org to find out more.


Which Area Of Focus Are You Passionate About?

Which area of focus did you get? Did you enjoy this quiz? Let us know in the comments!

Blazing new trails: How a New York City retiree found purpose in stonework

Originally from Cuba and now living in Poughkeepsie, New York, 61-year-old Artie Hidalgo worked for the New York City Transit Authority for 36 years before retiring as an assistant general manager in 2010. That year, he started building trails to make paths safer and more convenient for hikers. Hidalgo now co-leads the Jolly Rovers Trail Crew, an all-volunteer group specializing in wilderness stonework. Below, he talks about his passion.

This post originally appeared on Next Avenue, a PBS website that informs and inspires the 50 + crowd. 

I knew volunteering would be an important aspect of my retirement. I also knew I wanted to do stuff outdoors.

An avid hiker, I was always fascinated by the dry stonework used on hiking trails to prevent erosion, as well as how it got there.

Dry stone has been around for thousands of years. Look at the Great Wall of China and the Aqueducts in Rome. They’re such beautiful structures. There’s something primitive about building with natural stone. It’s like sculpture, in a way.

Since 99 percent of the work on U.S. trails is done by volunteers, I developed a game plan to volunteer by doing dry stone building.

In 2010, I joined the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, a nonprofit that monitors and maintains trails and took a dry stone building course. As soon as I finished, I began volunteering and put in almost 1,000 hours that season. It was the highest number of hours from a volunteer for the group in a single year.


Photo of Artie courtesy of the Jolly Rovers Trail Crew.

One of my jobs was working on a reroute of the Appalachian Trail on Bear Mountain. During the weekdays, there were hardly any volunteers so I had the opportunity to work directly with a professional trail crew that was overseeing volunteer training.

I developed a really close working relationship with them and they would ask me to do stuff that sometimes volunteers wouldn’t want to do because it was really hard, like turning big rocks into little rocks with a sledgehammer.

Toward the end of my first season, one of the guys took me to a site on Bear Mountain. “I need you to build a staircase here,” he said. “It’s probably going to be about 15 or 16 steps.”

I was shocked. Prior to that, I’d only built a two- or three-step staircase. I remember asking, “Tom, do you think I can do this?” He said, “Yeah, I think you can.”

I tell you, I worked for six or seven weeks on this project and it’s still so gratifying.

Sometimes, I walk new volunteers up it when we do an orientation because that staircase is so special to me. But I never think of it as my staircase. I always think of it as being done by all the guys on that crew who inspired me and gave me the opportunity to build it. I’m incredibly grateful to them.

I developed a special chemistry with two of the guys, Chris Ingui and Bob Brunner, and in 2011 the three of us built an all-volunteer crew specifically devoted to stonework, known as The Jolly Rovers.

We started with 12 volunteers who had little or no experience in trail building. We taught them how to do stonework and had an incredible season.

Now there are 23 Jolly Rover volunteers, men and women of all ages, and we have a deep connection that goes beyond stonework. This has become an extended family for all of us.

That’s the thing about my experience doing this kind of work. I’ve done it in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Tennessee and North Carolina and the quality and caliber of people I’ve met is astonishing. Nobody is pretentious. Nobody has a chip on his shoulder.

Ideally I’d like to see the crew evolve to the point where we can do what we’re doing on a national basis and expand internationally.

I feel so proud about what I’ve done as a volunteer.

I look back on my 36-year career with the Transit Authority and say, “Wow, what was that all about?” But when I look back on the last three years of my life, every structure that I built will outlive me, outlive my sons.

I remember taking my sons to Bear Mountain and they said, “I don’t believe this, Pop! This is awesome!”

They had heard me talk about what we did, but they never saw the magnitude of the structures that we built.

That stuff is going to be around for a long, long time. Nobody is going to put up a parking lot in any of these places. These are protected sites.

And that’s what I feel is so gratifying about it. In today’s modern culture, where else are you going to get the kind of opportunity I’ve had?

In the NY area and interested in doing trail work? The Jolly Rovers are always looking for volunteers.  

Interested in trail work in other parts of the country? Try searching Idealist for opportunities around the U.S. and world

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Colorado Snapshot: Senior volunteers continue to make a difference

Meet three sprightly Southern Colorado septuagenarians who won’t stop.

After a long teaching career, Rhoda Cordry still has a spring in her step

Rhoda Cordry, now 78, retired from a satisfying career as a public elementary school teacher in the mid-1980s with no particular plans to take on another big job. But after a friend asked her to attend a community meeting about restoring the town’s unique cold mineral springs she found herself intrigued by a new endeavor.


Cheyenne Spring, one of Manitou, CO’s prized cold mineral springs. Photo courtesy of the Mineral Springs Foundation.

“Manitou is right in the mountains; we can’t grow physically as a town,” explains Rhoda. “And there’s no industry, so we have to do something to keep the economy up as a tourist attraction. The springs are the thing, but they’re hard on the pipes and fountains people put them through—they clog, corrode, eat through them. They need maintenance.”

In 1987, Rhoda and a handful of other concerned locals started the Mineral Springs Foundation to restore, protect, publicize, and document Manitou’s springs. So far, they’ve succeeded in working with private landowners and the city to restore eight of the area’s approximately two dozen springs, and are working toward more. Rhoda left the foundation in 1995 due to health problems, but stays involved.

“I spent all my working years teaching elementary school, so that was child- and parent-focused,” she says. “But this was a whole new world. I learned a whole new set of skills, met wonderful people, and benefited greatly from it. I loved teaching, but I loved this, too. People asked what I wanted to do in retirement, and I said ‘I don’t know!’ So I’m glad this happened.”

Eagle Scout badge, black tie, and choir robe: some of Arthur Benson’s many uniforms 

“Being an Eagle Scout is probably worth $50,000 over a lifetime in terms of preference for schools and jobs,” says Arthur Benson, a 71-year-old retired plastics industry manager who now spends between 40 and 50 hours a month volunteering for five organizations in Colorado Springs. One of his favorite roles is as a leader and committee chairman of a local Boy Scout troop.

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Arthur Benson presents the Theodore Roosevelt Medal of the Navy League of the United States to a junior ROTC cadet. Photo courtesy of Arthur Benson.

“When I was in my 30s, I mentioned being a Scout leader in a job interview and the first question was, ‘Were you an Eagle Scout?’ and I was able to say yes. And I’ve read many college admissions deans say that all things being equal, they’ll choose the Scout,” he says. “It’s because scouting drills integrity into boys—teaches them about trustworthiness and loyalty, and how to live those traits out. It’s the right age to teach them, too, because then at 16 or 17, two kinds of fumes draw them away from scouting: gas fumes and perfume!”

Arthur is also a retired Navy officer with 23 years of service. He’s now active with the Navy League, an international, 50,000-member civilian organization that educates the public and Congress about the value and needs of the country’s sea services—”a mission especially important in a landlocked state,” says Arthur.

As treasurer of the local board and Navy Ball committee, Arthur helps to raise about $20,000 a year to support the League at the annual black-tie-or-uniform Navy Birthday Ball they sponsor for hundreds of active military and the public in Colorado Springs.

In addition, Arthur sings in two choirs and volunteers as treasurer for the small foundation that owns the real estate assets of his church, as well as for a charter school building corporation. “Those commitments don’t take a lot of time now, but I have a feeling they’ll snowball!” he says.

Bob Baker takes on many roles as the roll winds down

“Serving at the soup kitchen is really neat; it’s humbling,” says Bob Baker, 70, of the monthly volunteering he does with his wife in Colorado Springs. “Serving at that level is really valuable.”

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Bob Baker of Colorado Springs. Photo courtesy of Bob Baker.

But Bob has served at many levels for a long time, including in his professional life as CEO of Goodwill Industries of Southern Colorado for 17 years. Prior to that, when he was president of a local bank, he also dedicated time to the United Way, first as a campaign solicitor and eventually as chairman of the board of their local chapter.

“The United Way was a very vibrant organization at that time,” Bob says. “They had a ‘give once’ philosophy—you’d give once, to them, and they’d distribute your donation to worthy organizations in the community. It was very effective.”

Since retirement, among a host of other volunteer pursuits, Bob has joined the board of the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, a Catholic organization that provides health care and other services to those in need.

“The connections I’ve made—as a nonprofit CEO, board member, and volunteer—they’ve been very important,” he says. “I’ve maintained a lot of them. But life is that roll of toilet paper, right? And now, it’s winding down, so I want to make good use of the time I have left. There’s great fulfillment in all types of community involvement. We’ve been fortunate, and giving back is important to us.”

In Colorado and want to volunteer? Search hundreds of opportunities on Idealist. Or check out Metro Volunteers, a Denver-based organization that promotes volunteerism in the community.

Learn more about Colorado month at Idealist!

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Setting sail, again: Navy vet returns to volunteer on retired submarine

Ron Bell is one of 10 U.S. Navy submarine veterans who volunteer to lead weekly visitor tours on the USS Blueback, a sub docked outside the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, Oregon. Retired from a career in scrap metal construction, Bell spoke with me about why he loves volunteering.

This post originally appeared on Next Avenue, a PBS website that informs and inspires the 50 + crowd. 


Ron Bell below deck in the USS Blueback

I had been following the USS Blueback submarine since it was retired in 1990, because that’s what we submarine vets do. I was in the Navy for four years during two wars, and worked on a few submarines similar to this one, doing everything from maintenance to communications. When I heard the Blueback was coming to Portland, I had to see it and I had to be a part of it.

So in 1995, soon after it docked, I got involved in volunteering there. From giving tours of the sub to performing maintenance — whatever needs to be done, I do it.

I’m also here because submarines are the most beautiful pieces of machinery. Once you get bit by these things, you want to know all there is about them. You can’t quit.

Checking up on the sub

The Navy still owns the Blueback, but they’ve made it non-operational. For good reason, maybe. To be honest, I don’t think they trust us old sub vets not to take it for a spin. Every year or so, they visit to make sure it’s still up to par. Which, of course, it always is, since they’ve got us on deck.

I enjoy everything about what I do down here. I love telling our tours how we lived on a sub back then and sharing old stories. People like hearing them and I like telling ’em, so it works out nicely.

In the Navy, I was in Hawaii, Australia, the Philippines — during the Vietnam War — and then the coast of Europe, especially Russia, during the Cold War when I was in a nuclear sub. We got hit by Communist missiles a couple times.

You have to go through sub school, which is a rigorous, intensive type of training. Everyone on deck needs to know how to do everything, in case something goes wrong.

The USS Blueback docked outside of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (Photo credit: Meltedplastic on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/meltedplastic/8415091795)

The USS Blueback docked outside of the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (Photo credit: Meltedplastic on Flickr)

The joy of volunteering with fellow vets

The point is, sub vets worked hard to get to where they are. We are all very proud of what we’ve done and deeply respect each other. That’s what makes it so rewarding to work together here. Being on a sub in the Navy is something that connects us all at a very deep level.

I’ll tell ya, if you get a bunch of sub vets together for a cup of coffee after our shift, you end up sharing a lot of laughs and old sea stories, which is just the Navy term for lies.

I’ve visited amazing places around the world while on patrol, but now all I want to do is stay in the states and see this beautiful country where my wife and I live. We make time for RV trips every year to do just that.

An opportunity for time traveling

And of course, I travel back in time when I’m on the sub. As soon as I first walked on board the USS Blueback, it was just like “Boom!” I was back. And I loved it.

And I think the rest of the vets here feel the same. Being here brings back so many fond memories; it’s good for the heart.

I have to say my favorite part of volunteering is when young sub sailors come down to look at the old machinery — it’s a piece of history. They respect us more than anyone, since they know they wouldn’t be where they are if it wasn’t for us guys. That’s why doing this matters.

Want to volunteer in your community? Search over 13,000 volunteer opportunities around the globe listed on Idealist. 

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Sewing, photography, and researching: Can you use these skills to make a difference?

Photo credit: Donna Cymek, Creative Commons/Flickr

Photo credit: Donna Cymek, Creative Commons/Flickr

You sure can! And each of the individuals below would love to tell you how!

Each week, we’ll introduce you to some members of the Idealist community who are out to do good in the world. You can get to any of their profiles by clicking on their picture. Then just click Send a Message to reach out!

WasimWasim has worked for a wide array of media organizations around Los Angeles and amassed an impressive amount of experience. He founded Kotori Magazine in 2003 and is also an avid photographer, a skill he would like to use to help out organizations and causes he supports. Check out his Idealist profile to see some links to his photos, and contact him if you have any questions about media or want to collaborate on a project.





After graduating college with a degree in anthropology, Sara worked with primates in Oregon, Indonesia, and Chicago. Now she’s moving to Arizona after acquiring an M.A. in Nonprofit Management. She’d love to share her knowledge about anthropology, primates, and nonprofits, so send her a message!



ClayClay recently moved to Maryland and works with Habitat for Humanity. He’s dedicated to living and promoting a sustainable lifestyle, and would like to meet people that share his concern for the environment. He’s particularly concerned with lessening fossil fuel consumption and revitalizing urban communities. Help Clay make a change and drop him a line!



Alissa For the past seven years, Alissa has owned and operated a clothing boutique in Southampton, NY. She’s an expert in fashion design and has been sharing her skills with others for years. She is particularly interested in teaching young adults and children how to sew and design. If you’re curious about the fashion industry she’s an invaluable resource.




April is one of our editors at Idealist, and loves connecting with interesting people. She can give you advice about everything from urban bike riding to 3-day weekend itineraries. She’s a great person to contact if you have questions about how to start a career in writing or just want some suggestions about getting involved in the NYC nonprofit community.



Are you looking for advice? Or partners and collaborators? Do you have knowledge to share? Create a profile to offer your expertise to the community and to connect with people who can answer your questions, partner with you on a project, or help with an idea you’ve been developing. Include information about your past work and what you’re looking to get involved in. Happy connecting!