Volunteers in Petrinja-Sisak following the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that hit, December 2020

Volunteers in Petrinja-Sisak following the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that hit, December 2020

Caritas Internationalis launches an €880,000 appeal to help Caritas Croatia’s work in ensuring safe and dignified living conditions to people made homeless by a recent earthquake.

“The ground has been shaking every day since the original earthquake and people are living in constant fear and stress. A vast area of around 2000 square kilometers has been affected,” says Suzana Borko, deputy director of Caritas Croatia.

“Two hundred Caritas volunteers have been out delivering food and hygiene items to those affected since the earthquake happened. We’re now focusing on the long-term as we aim to help people rebuild their homes and communities.”

Caritas’ eight-month project will initially help up to 200 households by providing prefabricated container accommodation and financial and technical help so people can repair their homes.

“Many of those affected in rural areas want to stay near their crops and livestock so they are sleeping in barns, in their cars, and in the ruins of their homes. Caritas Croatia will help them as they rebuild their homes and communities so they can live in safe and dignified conditions,” she says.

The 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck around 30 miles to the south of Zagreb on 29th December, between the towns of Petrinja, Sisak, and Glina. It was the second earthquake in two days and the strongest in the area for 140 years.

Caritas’ response will focus on helping people in rural areas who risk being overlooked because of their geographical isolation.

Suzana Borko says that up to 90 percent of houses in villages between Petrinja and Glina have been damaged. One of the challenges is that houses have to be reassessed to see if they are inhabitable after each successive quake.

In spite of the challenges, she sees signs of hope and says, “At this challenging time we’ve seen a miraculous humanitarian response within our country, with many people sending food and clothes and construction items to the affected areas. Decent shelters and the rebuilding of homes are a primary focus for us and we will stick with these communities until we have achieved this.”


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Local and international volunteers in Zagreb following the 5.5 magnitude earthquake that hit, March 2020.

Local and international volunteers in Zagreb following the 5.5 magnitude earthquake that hit, March 2020.

A sudden shaking. Crushing sounds. Cars honking. People running out onto the streets. Sirens blaring.

This scene may seem like the opening of a blockbuster superhero movie, but it is actually what happened on March 22, 2020 – when the strongest earthquake in 140 years hit Croatia’s capital, Zagreb, and its surrounding areas. As a result of the 5.5 magnitude earthquake, 1 person died, scores were injured, thousands displaced, and over 26,000 public and private buildings were damaged. Total damages and losses were estimated at €11.3 billion.

In Croatia, we have a saying: “nesreća nikad ne dolazi sama” or “misfortune never comes alone.” The earthquake and its multiple aftershocks happened in the middle of a nation-wide COVID-19 lockdown – damaging homes, COVID-19 testing centers, and hospitals.

We also have another saying: “pravi se prijatelji u nevolji poznaju” or “in times of need you know who your friends are.”

Governments respond to disasters through established systems comprised of teams and equipment providing critical services to save lives and property. The international community, too, helps countries in need. In this case, under the first wave of lockdowns and restrictions, the World Bank supported the Government in its rapid assessment of damages and fast-tracked the preparation of two emergency operations to cushion the blows from the earthquake, the COVID-19 pandemic, and ongoing shocks to the economy. Thanks to the Earthquake Recovery and Public Health Preparedness Project, selected schools and hospitals will be rehabilitated and reconstructed , and assistance is being provided to design a housing reconstruction support program. The project will also help build the preparedness of the public health system – focusing on  protocols, supplies, and equipment for any future pandemic.

Beyond this, there are associations and the companies – along with family members, friends, and neighbors – who have stepped-up and offered a helping hand. In times of disaster, many go the extra mile to help others – transforming into superheroes.

Within days of the Zagreb earthquake, several hundred women and men volunteered their time and skills to support immediate response and recovery efforts, with thousands more making financial donations.

Many volunteers provided immediate assistance – climbers, cavers, window-cleaners, tree surgeons, and professional dancers climbed roofs to clear debris and protect citizens from falling objects. Using mostly their own equipment – ropes, harnesses, and helmets – the volunteers made hundreds of buildings safer. Under the initiative “Alpinists, Speleologists and Climbers are Helping Zagreb,” this army of “spider” men and women signed up and organized using online platforms, social media, and word of mouth.

Associations of football supporters in Croatia, who are already known for being “super” helpers in emergencies, also joined the recovery efforts.  The Bad Blue Boys – the capital’s football supporters – have been active since the outbreak of the pandemic, working with the City Red Cross Society of Zagreb to help the elderly and poor by delivering food and medicine through a humanitarian aid initiative, dubbed ‘Blue Heart’. When the earthquake hit, they were on the front lines helping people, including saving mothers and newborn children from a damaged maternity hospital.

Hundreds of engineers volunteered their “brainiac” skills to assess the safety of affected buildings using a web-based, GIS-enabled platform. In addition to capturing information from the field and tracking overall progress, the system also showed buildings with citizens who were isolating because of COVID-19 self-isolation. This allowed surveyors and volunteers to conduct field assessments in line with COVID-19 hygiene, distancing, and protective measures. As the recovery process continues, this online platform also connects a community of experts, scientists and academia, national authorities, and interested citizens. The data collected informed the Government’s rapid damage and needs assessment, for which a team of World Bank experts provided technical and operational guidance.

When it comes to volunteering, some countries have well-established systems and processes to allow volunteers to be part of disaster risk management, whether in times of crisis or in preparing for one. In others, these arrangements are still nascent, but there are many opportunities – including online platforms, apps, and tools which can support engagement and outreach.

For example, in Romania, which, like Croatia, is also vulnerable to earthquakes, civil society is increasingly more engaged in disaster resilience. The national civil protection agency, the local tech community Code for Romania, and the World Bank, have been developing a new application – Resource and Volunteer Management Solution – to enable the government to quickly mobilize and utilize resources and coordinate volunteers in the event of a major disaster. The app allows volunteer organizations to register and share information, such as an overview of resources, technical skills, and number of available volunteers – all critical components for effective coordination between public and volunteer groups.

In Croatia, the “One for Another” citizen’s initiative was set up just after the COVID-19 lockdown to assist the elderly, disabled, and other vulnerable people with access to food, medicine and supplies. Following the earthquake, supported by online communication tools, this initiative quickly responded by reaching out and providing additional help to the elderly living in heavily damaged parts of the city.

These various examples from Zagreb reveal that we can all become “supermen” and “superwomen” to help others in need. An important lessons learnt is that different actors – the government, international community, and volunteers – all can play a vital role for the people in need.


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Young volunteers distributing food to those in need during the COVID-19 crisis.

Young volunteers distributing food to those in need during the COVID-19 crisis.

It’s often said that volunteers are the backbone of a community. What happens when a public health crisis forces them to stay at home? The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered the landscape of volunteering, both in terms of volunteer opportunities and volunteer availability, and the disruption is likely to continue for months to come.

In less fraught times, Canadians have been generous with their time and energy. According to Statistics Canada, “In 2018, over 12.7 million Canadians engaged in formal volunteering, with a total of 1.6 billion hours of their time given to charities, non-profits and community organizations—equivalent to almost 858,000 full-time year-round jobs.” Over 22.7 million people (almost three-quarters of Canadians aged 15 and older) spent 3.4 billion hours doing informal volunteering—equivalent to more than 1.7 million full-time year-round jobs.

Non-profit organizations often rely on volunteers to support their activities. A recent survey of more than 300 Canadian charities and non-profits, conducted by Ipsos for Volunteer Canada in late May and early June, found that many organizations had suspended, postponed or cancelled programs and services, or found new ways to deliver them while adhering to physical distancing guidelines. About half of respondents had transitioned some volunteer roles to remote delivery (virtual, online, phone), but 40% have suspended all volunteer engagement.

Other major challenges facing non-profits include staff layoffs or reduced staff hours, declining donations, cancelled fundraisers, and significant changes to how volunteers are recruited, trained, screened and managed.

Senior volunteers are staying home

Older adults (baby boomers and seniors) are among Canada’s most active volunteers – they contribute the most hours per person, on average. They’re also among those most vulnerable to COVID-19. As a result, many are self-isolating and have stopped or cut back on their volunteer activities.

Ipsos and Volunteer Canada surveyed more than 600 individuals about volunteering during the pandemic, and they found that, among the 24% of respondents aged 65 and older, the most commonly cited deterrents to volunteering included being over 65, not knowing where to find COVID-19 volunteering opportunities, living with someone over 65, having health issues, and living with someone who has health issues.

Shifting to virtual volunteering

Many non-profits have adapted by taking their volunteering roles and fundraising activities online. For example, several charity walks, runs and bike races are now virtual – participants pick a date, map out their own routes and raise money online. That’s how the employees of Bayshore Therapy & Rehab in Windsor, Ontario, did this summer’s Walk to Make Cystic Fibrosis History, an event they’ve supported for many years. The team raised an impressive $14,050. Combined with a 50% match from the Bayshore Foundation, they contributed more than $21,000.

Employers who usually engage their staff in charitable activities are also finding ways to promote volunteerism during the pandemic, despite not being able to hold in-person events. “We’re seeing companies organize skills-based opportunities like mentoring, and less-skilled activities like writing notes to seniors and wishing them well, or growing vegetables to donate to a food bank,” says Elizabeth Dove, Director of Corporate Citizenship at Volunteer Canada. “They’re also amplifying their employees’ stories – sharing what charitable activities they’ve been doing, and providing links so that others can join in.”

Dove says it’s inspiring that a lot of non-profits and employers have been able to keep volunteers engaged at such a challenging time. “The innovation coming out of non-profits and companies is so interesting and heartwarming. It’s made a number of opportunities for giving back much more accessible.”

If you’re not tech-savvy, don’t let the term “virtual volunteering” deter you, adds Dove. It simply means doing things remotely – activities such as making masks, knitting blankets, collecting non-perishable food, or doing outreach by phone or email.

If you can’t find a suitable role with your favourite charities, offer support within your circle of contacts, says Dove. “It’s just as important, maybe even more important, to look at people in your circle that you feel safe being in contact with and offering support by phone or email.”

Volunteering is good for you

Volunteering makes people feel good – something we can all benefit from during these stressful times. Volunteering has also been linked with a range of health and wellness benefits, including lower blood pressure, increased happiness and greater self-esteem. It also allows you to try new activities and learn new things.

“We know that volunteering increases a sense of belonging and well-being. Connecting with and understanding others creates better empathy. And volunteering is great for skills building,” says Dove. “It really is a two-way street.”

All the charities supported by the Bayshore Foundation have volunteer opportunities in their local community. Learn more about the charities we support.


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Volunteering not mandatory for 2020 high school grads, but still a good idea: advocates

Volunteering not mandatory for 2020 high school grads, but still a good idea: advocates

Ontario’s education ministry has waived the requirement for high school students graduating this year to complete 40 hours of community volunteer work.

But some advocates say that doesn’t mean they should stop volunteering — especially now.

Cara Eaton is the director of strategic communications for Volunteer Toronto, which aggregates volunteer opportunities in the Greater Toronto Area. Her organization has seen a steady flow of requests for volunteers to help with COVID-19 relief.

While the community benefits of volunteerism are obvious, volunteers have much to gain from the experience too.

“Volunteering is proven as a two-way relationship,” she said. “Not only do non-profits and communities benefit from the time that’s given, but volunteers are actually changing, they’re growing.”

Eaton said the benefits of volunteering include increased access to services volunteers might not have known about before, exposure to the non-profit sector, relevant career experience, networking opportunities and even job references, plus transferable skills like collaboration, communication, empathy, and creative and critical thinking.

“You’re learning how to empathize with others, how to be accountable, how to understand your civic role in society,” she said. Eaton knows this first-hand, having arrived at two major stops in her career, including her current role, with a boost from her own volunteer experience.


“I am the evidence, but now I get to refine the evidence for a broad population and really communicate it.”


Carrie Moodie serves as director of strategic solutions for Spark Ontario, a service that compiles volunteer opportunities in Ontario’s non-profit sector at www.sparkontario.ca.

Spark Ontario has received so many requests for help with COVID-19 relief, Moodie said, the website has been modified to prioritize COVID-19 volunteer requests over all other requests. Interest in volunteering is high now, too, and she said that while there are enough roles to go around, some are more appropriate for teenagers looking to dive into something with little, to no, prior experience.

“There are opportunities that take a little more time and need police record checks, but there are also a number that are relatively immediate,” she said. For example, she said, a group in Ottawa has put a call out for people with bicycles to deliver masks to seniors’ mailboxes.

“That would be a great one for a high school student, just getting them out on their bike and delivering something that a senior or someone who is vulnerable needs.”

Food banks across the province also need help with tasks that don’t involve directly serving the public.

There are plenty of jobs volunteers can do from home, too, like writing letters of support to seniors and front-line workers and mentoring seniors as they learn to use online applications to stay connected.

Moodie said anyone interested in a volunteer opportunity should contact the organization that posted it to ensure co-ordinators are following physical distancing guidelines in order to keep volunteers and clients safe.

The ministry said future graduates should check with their school to determine if volunteer opportunities count toward their community involvement hours.


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Young volunteers cleaning up local parks during the COVID-19 crisis.

Young volunteers cleaning up local parks during the COVID-19 crisis.

There are an unlimited number of lessons to be learned by lending a hand. Through volunteering programs, tweens and teens can create community connections, learn the importance of giving back and develop essential life skills that will carry over into future careers.

It doesn’t matter whether your teen is already motivated, or they need community service hours for a college application or they’re reluctant to get involved — they’re sure to fall in love with the following programs. 

We’ve compiled a list of fabulous local volunteer opportunities that are eager to engage your tweens and teens. The list is organized by interest: opportunities that help community members, feed neighbors, take care of the outdoors and help animals. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, many places have adjusted their volunteer schedules and requirements, and others may have temporarily paused their volunteer programs. Check each organization’s website for the most current information about its volunteer programs. 

Opportunities to help others

Seattle Public Library, various locations

If your high schooler is a strong student academically, she or he can earn service-learning hours through the Seattle Public Library’s Learning Buddies program. Teens ages 14 and older can help tutor children in grades K–5 in math or reading, while learning communication, patience and time management skills.

How to get involved: Find a program near you by visiting the Seattle Public Library’s Teen Service Learning volunteer page.

WestSide Baby, Seattle

Help keep children safe, warm and dry by volunteering for WestSide Baby. Sort donations, bundle diapers, fill orders and more. Teens ages 14 and older can volunteer on their own; children under 14 need a parent to come along.

How to get involved: WestSide Baby hosts Teen Volunteer After School hours and other opportunities; find details on the volunteer page. 

Update: Due to COVID-19 restrictions, WestSide Baby is currently unable to operate regular volunteer shifts. Check the website for further updates.

Treehouse for Kids, Seattle

Support youth in foster care by volunteering for Treehouse for Kids! High schoolers are free to volunteer without an adult. Tasks include sorting donations, preparing merchandise for the Treehouse Store and more.

How to get involved: Register online.

Update: Treehouse is hosting a limited number of volunteers. It has onetime and ongoing shifts available for individuals or small groups. Please see the website for more details. 

Wallingford Community Senior Center, Seattle

Teens can build community across generations by volunteering at the Wallingford Community Senior Center.

How to get involved: Connect with older adults by filling out an application online.

Update: The senior center is operating online only and currently closed for volunteers. 

City of Bellevue, various locations

Budding thespians might enjoy volunteering at Bellevue Youth Theatre. Or perhaps your teen wants to get involved in community issues through the Youth Link program? Whatever the teen’s style, the City of Bellevue has plenty of options.

How to get involved: Check out the City of Bellevue’s Teen Volunteering page for options, locations and more. 

Jewish Family Service, various locations

Jewish Family Service’s mission is to help vulnerable families achieve “well-being, health and stability.” Volunteer opportunities range from helping with food drives; collecting gloves, socks and coats; and more. Teens are welcome, but volunteers ages 18 and younger must be accompanied by an adult.

How to get involved: Volunteer as a family by visiting the website.

Swedish Medical Center, Issaquah

Is your teen considering a career in healthcare? Swedish Medical Center offers volunteer opportunities for teens ages 14–18. Space is limited, but kids are encouraged to apply to be added to the queue.

How to get involved: Fill out the 18-and-under online application. 

Kids Coming Together, Sammamish

Kids Coming Together provides free volunteering opportunities for kids in third grade through high school. Younger ages benefit from guided service activities spearheaded by high school “leaders.” Teenage leaders are there to participate, facilitate and help the younger kids have fun and make new friends.

How to get involved: Visit the Kids Coming Together volunteer page for details.

Help feed neighbors

Food Lifeline, Seattle

Volunteering duties at Food Lifeline are fun, easy and make a huge difference in the lives of people experiencing hunger. Volunteers must be age 14 or older and masks are mandatory. 

How to get involved: Learn more and register at Food Lifeline.

West Seattle Food Bank, West Seattle

West Seattle Food Bank’s mission is to make sure neighbors don’t go hungry by providing access to safe and nutritious food. Volunteers must be at least 13 years old. Teens can also get involved by participating in a PCC food repackaging party. 

How to get involved: Fill out a volunteer application online. 

University District Food Bank, Seattle

The University District Food Bank has been helping prevent hunger in Northeast Seattle for nearly 40 years. Volunteer slots for teens are limited, but kids are welcome to volunteer with an adult family member. 

How to get involved: Fill out a volunteer interest form online. Volunteer as a family by having the adult fill out the individual volunteer form and indicate that they’d like to bring a child with them. 

Update: At this time, the food bank has restricted youth volunteers to just teens ages 15–17, and they must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. The food bank cannot accommodate youth under the age of 15 right now but look forward to welcoming more youth to volunteer as soon as possible. 

FamilyWorks, Seattle

FamilyWorks provides food and services to families in need. High school students can volunteer at the FamilyWorks food bank during school breaks. Teens can also organize a food or clothing drive at their school or in their neighborhood.

How to get involved: View teen-specific volunteering opportunities online.

Northwest Harvest, Kent

Help sort and pack food for Northwest Harvest, which promotes healthy eating while reducing hunger. Volunteers ages 9–15 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian; teens ages 16 and older can volunteer independently.

How to get involved: Sign up to be a volunteer online. Note that if you are planning on volunteering alongside your teen, both you and your child need to fill out an application. 

Nourish, Pierce County

Serving food to more than half a million people in Pierce County every year, Nourish Pierce County always needs volunteers to help out! Teens must be age 17 or older to volunteer on their own.

How to get involved: Create an account with Volunteer Up through the Nourish website to sign up for shifts. 

Outdoor opportunities

Seattle Parks and Recreation Teen Service Learning, various locations

Seattle Parks and Recreation provides a wide range of free service opportunities. Teens can help restore trails, repair urban forest land, gain water-safety experience as a lifeguard and more. Teens are expected to be reliable and “proud of the work that they have produced.”  

How to get involved: See the Seattle Parks and Recreation website for details. Teens are required to provide the necessary paperwork to document community service hours intended for school credit.

Update: Seattle Parks and Recreation is not currently accepting volunteers, but you can call 206-684-8028 and be added to its list in anticipation of volunteer services resuming. 

Camp Fire, various locations

Teens in eighth grade through high school can volunteer as camp counselors at day camps and overnight camps for younger kids. Counselors help with programming that includes cooking, games, arts and crafts, nature and more.

How to get involved: Counselors must undergo specific training to learn leadership skills and other essentials involved in the job. Learn more about the various camps and training online

Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association, West Seattle

The Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association’s Urban Forest Restoration program welcomes outdoorsy volunteers who are ready to learn new skills and engage in new experiences. Their volunteer opportunities focus on local forest and wetland restoration in West Seattle parks.  

How to get involved: Visit the DNDA volunteer page for details. Note that kids under 18 must have a signed waiver before participating. 

Washington Trails Association, various Locations

Washington Trails Association offers tons of outdoor opportunities. By attending a work party, teens can learn leadership and outdoor skills, earn service hours and make new friends — all while spending time outside. Or join a Youth Volunteer Vacation: an opportunity to spend a whole week outdoors while building and maintaining hiking trails.

How to get involved: Join a work party or learn more about the Youth Volunteer Vacation program.

EarthCorps, various locations

Help beautify locations all over the Puget Sound — from Everett to Tacoma — with EarthCorps! Volunteers ages 14–18 are free to volunteer without a parent or guardian as long as that adult completes a waiver for their teen to turn in on the day of the work event.

How to get involved: Sign up for a specific outdoor work event by visiting the volunteer calendar. 

Update: Earth Corps is currently hosting volunteer events in Tacoma, but all other opportunities are on hold until the summer of 2021. Check the website for further updates. 

Metro Parks Tacoma, various locations

Sign up for an outdoor work party through the Chip-In program with Metro Parks Tacoma. There are so many parks and gardens that need volunteer work; find a specific park or garden online to view volunteer options.

How to get involved: Register for an upcoming event on the Metro Parks website. 

Wilderness Awareness School, various locations

Sign up to be a summer camp volunteer with Wildness Awareness School. They are currently looking for volunteers (ages 13–18) who are interested in working with children in the natural environment. Volunteers will assist lead instructors during the Nature Day Camps for one week or more during the summer.

How to get involved: Submit your application online and read more about the program on the website. 

Opportunities that involve animals

Seattle Aquarium

Through the Seattle Aquarium’s Youth Ocean Advocates program, high school volunteers have the opportunity to participate in ocean conservation projects, including beach cleanups.

How to get involved: Teens need to be currently enrolled in grades 9–12. Spaces are limited and orientation is required. Visit their website for all the details. 

Update: Currently, the aquarium is not accepting new volunteers for the program, but it hope to resume new volunteer training sessions in spring 2021. Check the website for further updates. 

Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle

The primary role of volunteers at Woodland Park Zoo is to engage with guests, but dedicated teens 16 and older should know that existing volunteers have the opportunity to apply for other zoo positions, including roles involved in animal care.

How to get involved: Teens 16 and older can fill out a volunteer application online. 

Update: Due to COVID-19, the zoo is not yet able to provide exact dates for 2021 sessions. Check the website for further updates. 

Little Bit, Redmond

If you have a horse-obsessed teen 14 or older, send them to Little Bit, a Therapeutic Riding Center serving people with disabilities. Program volunteers help with grooming, tacking, leading horses and supporting riders during class. No previous horse experience is necessary, but program volunteers must commit to a regular 2-hour shift for at least six months. Looking for a shorter commitment? Help out as a Barn Team volunteer!

How to get involved: Visit Little Bit’s volunteer page for details. 

Update: Little Bit has paused its volunteer program, but hopes to resume welcoming new volunteers when Washington state enters Phase 3 of the Safe Start plan. 

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Tacoma

If your teen loves animals and the environment, encourage them to become a Camp Assistant or Zoo Guide at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Youth Volunteers must be between the ages of 14 and 18.

How to get involved: View High School Volunteer opportunities online.

The Humane Society, Tacoma and Pierce County

Tacoma and Pierce County teens ages 16 and older can work with animals by volunteering at the Humane Society. This is a six-month commitment, so make sure your teen has the time to give before they fill out an application.

How to get involved: Fill out a volunteer application online. Note: This is a popular opportunity and the Humane Society periodically closes the application process when full.


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