24 Ways to Give Back and Volunteer around Boston This Year

Want to end the year by making a difference? Here are 24 ways to get involved and build a better Boston.

Keeping the Boston Harbor Islands beautiful. / Photo courtesy of Boston Harbor Islands

Helping Hands

Volunteering isn’t just rewarding—it can also be fun. That is, if you sign up for something that suits your skill set.

If you like getting your hands dirty

Lace up your hiking boots and hit the trails of the Boston Harbor Islands.

Nature lovers are always needed to hop a ferry and help out at the largest recreational space in eastern Massachusetts, clearing away pesky invasive plant species and preserving habitats that are home to local wildlife.


Dedicated volunteers are crucial to keeping the Charles River banks clean and green. / Photo by Julia Hopkins/Charles River Watershed Association

Go wading in the Charles River.

“Dirty Water” is a classic Standells tune, but not something we actually want around here. Thankfully, the Charles River Watershed Association keeps all 80 miles of it clean by training volunteers at multiple sites along the river to gather water samples, record conditions, and assess the habitats of small animals and insects.


Photo via Floortje/Getty Images

Help grow a farm in our urban jungle.

From seeding fields to spreading compost in the greenhouse, green thumbs are always welcome at the ReVision Urban Farm. Operated by the multiservice nonprofit Victory Programs, the Dorchester farm grows healthy veggies to help feed residents at a nearby homeless shelter for women and their families.


There’s great reward in investing time at the Greater Boston Food Bank. / Photo by Nicolaus Czarnecki Photography/Greater Boston Food Bank

If you feel most at home in the kitchen

Whisk yourself away to the Greater Boston Food Bank.

Grab your favorite sous chef or sign up solo: You’ll need to move fast to nab one of the 15 slots per shift at the Greater Boston Food Bank, where volunteers spend a few hours sorting cans to feed folks in 190 Massachusetts towns, or packing up groceries for speedy delivery to seniors.


Raise a lot of dough during “The World’s Greatest Bake Sale.”

That’s what Boston-based Community Servings calls Pie in the Sky, its annual November fundraiser that typically moves more than 25,000 restaurant-baked treats. Its recipe for success? Volunteer pie sellers who get hungry friends to buy into the mission of providing home-delivered meals, nutrition education, and more to chronically ill people.


Show off the knife skills you learned watching Chopped—for a good cause.

Until the Food Network comes calling your name, head over to the Boston Rescue Mission to cook up a Sunday Community Meal. Over the course of five hours, you and up to five other volunteers will whip up a meal from scratch to serve about 175 people in need. Guaranteed you’ll leave feeling nourished, too.


Make a dog’s day by volunteering with the Animal Rescue League of Boston. / Photo courtesy of Animal Rescue League

If you speak pet like Dr. Dolittle

Go for a ride in the Wellness Waggin’.

When the opportunity arises, pitch in while docs provide low-cost exams, vaccinations, flea treatment, and other services all over the city, from East Boston to Mattapan, in the Animal Rescue League of Boston’s mobile veterinary unit. Dog walkers are also frequently needed.


Be a comforting companion to a furry friend in need.

In addition to helping clean cages, wash doggy bowls, and perform other necessary tasks, volunteers at the MSPCA Angell Animal Medical Center serve as two-legged supporters to hospitalized animals in need of a little love.


Feed some very hungry animals.

At least you’ll never forget what the anteaters ordered for dinner when you’re preparing meals as a keeper’s aide at Franklin Park Zoo. Volunteers also assist in planning enrichment activities for the animals, to make sure they’re equally well fed with fun.


Photo via Siraphol/Getty Images

If you’re the friendly neighbor everyone can count on

Put on a hard hat and buckle on your tool belt.

As long as you know how to hammer a nail, you have enough experience to help out with Habitat for Humanity Greater Boston. Sign up solo or with a group of coworkers to assist with constructing affordable homes for low-income families everywhere from Malden to Mission Hill.


Roll out the welcome mat for folks who are finally finding a home.

When you prep an apartment for Metro Housing Boston—which provides safe and comfortable living spaces to 25,000 households moving out of homelessness every year—you’ll do more than make sure the pillows are thoughtfully fluffed. You’ll be giving families a secure future.


Take care of a shopping list for the Pine Street Inn.

While you’re browsing aisles on your next supermarket trip, add some groceries and other essentials for Boston’s largest homeless shelter to your cart. They’ll be used to stuff “Street Outreach” bags for unhoused people across the city.


A Horizons for Homeless Children helper takes a moment for play. / Photo courtesy of Horizon for Homeless Children

If you love kids (but are past your babysitting years)

Play peekaboo on the play mat.

You’ll reconnect with your own inner child when you make friends with a tot through Horizons for Homeless Children. The organization is always seeking weekly activity leaders for its Playspaces, child-friendly, trauma-sensitive rooms that the organization has built for children ages zero to six at homeless shelters across Massachusetts.


Get reacquainted with Winnie the Pooh.

Clifford and Corduroy? They’ll probably join the party, too, when you host a new and used picture-book drive for Raising a Reader Massachusetts. Set up a donation drop-box—at your desk at the office, perhaps?—to help the organization improve childhood literacy across the state.


Help a hard-working kid get into college.

The college application process will be a lot less stressful for students in underserved communities if you run mock admissions interviews with them through the nonprofit Breakthrough Boston. Was English class more your thing? Work one-on-one on essay writing and revisions.


It’s About Time

Whether you have a few hours or a few months to spare, you’ll find plenty of ways to make a difference.

If You Have: 2 hours
Volunteer with: Cradles to Crayons Boston
Because: Children across the city depend on the winter coats, backpacks, and other donated essentials that are sorted by volunteers during short shifts at the organization’s Giving Factory warehouse.


If You Have: 2 days
Volunteer with: The Rose Kennedy Greenway
Because: Now that you’re working from home, serving as a tour guide on a twice-monthly (minimum) basis is a good excuse to get out of the house and soak up some fresh air at the landmark downtown park.


If You Have: 8 weeks
Volunteer with: Girls on the Run Greater Boston
Because: Research has shown that elementary and middle school girls see gains in confidence, as well as physical activity, after participating in these eight-week running programs led by volunteer coaches.


If You Have: 6 months
Volunteer with: New England Aquarium
Because: You’ll never see the ocean the same way again once you’ve fed the fish in the Giant Ocean Tank, made toys for seals, or otherwise helped out with a half-year commitment here.


If You Have: 8 months
Volunteer with: FriendshipWorks
Because: By providing regular companionship to a Boston-area senior through the organization’s Friendly Visiting program, you’ll make someone’s day—and make a new friend in the process.


If You Have: 12 months
Volunteer with: Boston Area Rape Crisis Center
Because: Survivors and their significant others rely on a phone hotline and web chats provided by the center’s volunteers, who undergo months of important training.


Wine and Dine for a Cause

Looking to donate rather than do? Give back by scoring a ticket to one of these fundraising galas—and get a night out on the town in return.

Candlelight Hope Gala

As if hors d’oeuvres with a waterfront view and a silent auction weren’t enough, this year’s event in support of the Epilepsy Foundation of New England at the InterContinental Boston will feature speaker Philip Haydon, who’s currently circumnavigating the globe on his sailboat to raise awareness for the condition.

November 5 at 5:30 p.m.; tickets starting at $300; epilepsynewengland.org.

Children of Promise Gala

Also held at the InterContinental, the New England Center for Children’s annual shindig is a night of good food and good drinks (both before and after dinner, which features live music and awards) for a good cause—specifically, helping to fund the NECC’s comprehensive education, research, and training initiatives to support kids with autism.

November 12 at 6 p.m.; tickets starting at $400; necc.org.

ALS One Snow Ball Gala

More than 500 guests are expected to turn out in their winter best to support ALS One, a nonprofit that helps to find treatments and, ultimately, a cure for the progressive neurodegenerative disease. And with music from local band Hot Mess, dinner, and auctions raising funds for research and care, it’s no wonder the glamorous event (held this year at the Marriot Boston Quincy) is so popular. —Makena Gera

January 29; tickets are $150 each; alsone.org