When finals are over, all you may want to do is drop your books and catch the next flight to Cancun, or even just catch up on sleep.  But why not help the local community and volunteer some of your time?

There are many opportunities in Bellingham for volunteering and you can pick from several categories, from feeding the homeless to getting involved in the local music scene. You may not make it to Cancun, but you can still have fun getting to know your community.

Getting Started

The Whatcom Volunteer Center is the place to go if you want to volunteer but aren’t sure what to do. According to its Web site, the Whatcom Volunteer Center has been getting volunteers connected with opportunities with local groups for 35 years.

“We have over 300 different opportunities and 15 different categories [for volunteering],” said Daniel Hammill, program director.
Students should volunteer for several reasons, he said. One of them is that volunteer experience is often looked for when students apply for scholarships, graduate school and law school. It’s also a valuable asset for students seeking employment.

“Volunteering is a resume builder and an opportunity to gain experience in a field…when they [students] do that, they gain that resume experience that employers are looking for,” he said.

Help the Homeless

At Community Meals, volunteers can prepare food, set up for the dinner, bus and reset tables, assist diners and clean up afterward, all to serve the homeless an enjoyable meal, said Kasey Potzler, volunteer coordinator for Community Meals.

“It gives you a look at the need that is there in our community,” Potzler said of volunteering with Community Meals.

To get involved, send an e-mail to Potzler at 2kayaks@gmail.com.

Other local organizations that serve the homeless are the Lighthouse Mission, Amy’s Place and the Bellingham Food Bank.
Relief Services
From disaster response to health and safety, volunteering with the Red Cross offers a wide range of experience, Volunteer Services Director Linnea Broker said. The Red Cross also takes volunteers for areas such as public support and financial development. Also, volunteers can sign up with the organization Service for Military Families, which helps families contact their family members serving in the military if an emergency happens and they need the soldier to come home right away, Broker said.
“We’re very flexible to folks getting on board and exploring a bit,” Broker said, adding “There’s something for everyone.”
At www.mtbredcross.org, all the available volunteer positions are listed. After reviewing them, interested volunteers can attend volunteer orientation, which is held twice a month.
Two other relief organizations in Bellingham are Womencare Shelter and Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services. Both organizations provide services for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault.
Human Rights
Whatcom Peace and Justice Center (WPJC) needs volunteers to organize, promote and help at its events, said Marie Marchand, executive director of WPJC. The organization also needs volunteers to table once a quarter at local high schools, providing information for students about alternatives to military service.
To get involved, Marchand suggested e-mailing the WPJC at Whatcompjc@fidalgo.net or call 360-734-0217.
Volunteering with the WPJC is “a way of gaining information and being empowered,” Marchand said.
For other human rights and justice volunteer opportunities, contact the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force at 360-733-2233.
Local Music
As the only all-ages venue in Bellingham, Whatcom All Ages Arts and Music (WhAAM) needs event volunteers and people to put up fliers on campus and downtown, said Ross Brackett, WhAAM’S interim volunteer coordinator. Whaam is also looking for volunteer managers to coordinate the volunteer program, he added.
“Students should volunteer with WhAAM if they want to increase their participation in Bellingham’s thriving music community by helping to make the events happen,” Brackett said.  “You get to hear [and] see a show for free and in the process, you ensure that WhAAM events will still be happening in the years to come.”
To sign up, contact Brackett at volunteer@whaam.org.
Another opportunity to volunteer with local music efforts is with KMRE 102.3. The station is owned and operated by the Museum of Radio and Electricity. To sign up, download a volunteer application at www.amre.us/kmre and e-mail it to kmre@amre.us.
KUGS 89.3, Western’s very own radio station, also takes volunteers every quarter. Positions include news reading and public affairs, as well as on-air music DJs. The application is available online at www.kugs.org.
Work with Kids
Do you want to volunteer with kids? The Boys and Girls Club might be the right place for you. According to Matthew Santos, program staff, the Boys and Girls Club doesn’t try to strictly schedule its volunteers. Also, volunteers provide companionship more than anything else, he said.
“If the child needs a partner to play pool with, then the volunteer does that…they’re more [like] a friend,” he said.
According to Santos, working with the Boys and Girls Club is a great way to get involved with the community. To sign up, fill out a volunteer packet, available at www.whatcomclubs.org and take it to the Boys and Girls Club at 1715 Kentucky St., Bellingham, Wash. 98229 or e-mail it to the addresses listed on the Web page.
Another opportunity to get involved with local youth is Big Brothers Big Sisters. Contact them at 360-671-6400.
Environmental Efforts
For those looking to volunteer in the environmental area, Bellingham Parks and Recreation offers work parties every Saturday in the fall, winter and spring and evening work parties in the summer, said Rae Edwards, the parks’ volunteer coordinator. Activities vary throughout the year, with site preparation in the fall, planting in the late winter and spring and invasive plant removal year round, she said.
“People do it [volunteer] because they want to get outside,” Edwards said.
Call 360-778-7105 or go to www.cob.org to find out about work parties near you.
Learning Environment Action Discovery (LEAD), a Western environmental organization, will also be offering work parties this spring. Sign up on their Web site, www.wwu.edu/lead.
Another environmentally-minded opportunity is with Sustainable Bellingham, which offers Tuesday evening work parties starting March 24. Find them online at www.sustainablebellingham.org.