Now and throughout the year, plenty of Costa Rican charitable organizations need your help. So how about volunteering a few hours? Everybody comes away with a gift!
Here are some opportunities for residents and visitors who speak English, Spanish or both to donate your time and energy to help needy or disadvantaged youth and adults right here in Costa Rica. This article highlights three organizations, and I hope to follow up with several more. And of course, since this is “Fun and Free in Costa Rica,” all it’s going to cost you is your time.
The adults and kids who came to talk and learn a little really just wanted conversation, a respite from the daily efforts of simply surviving. By the end of our chat, the elderly gentlemen who wanted to learn a few words of English so he could better communicate with his grandchild was laughing. So was I! Our combination of Spanglish was ridiculous, but we both enjoyed it.
But mainly, I sat back while young people organized the event, and simply enjoyed speaking with some of the community members who really need the support of this organization.
Vicente Velez, a student at Country Day School, is the organization’s student leader. When his sister began the project in 2012, he was on the cleaning crew, and now he and the students run the volunteer program.
“We meet once a month, usually at the church in Escazú, to prepare food for the homeless in the community,” he said. “If you are not a cook you can assist the cooks or be a doctor’s assistant, a photographer, journalist, social worker, or an English tutor for the Escazú community. We meet from 10 to 12 on the second Saturday of the month.”
My children were comfortable as clams as they pitched in to volunteer. They fit right in, helping to package gifts for needy kids and adults at Christmastime, loading up a piñata and serving food to people who rarely find a hot meal. I offered to tutor English to needy community members.
The program is run entirely by high school students! They provide clothing, food, celebrations, haircuts and medical care to the community. (If you are a doctor or medical practitioner, so many of these organizations would be thrilled to have your help.)
Student Sofía Quintero says: “I am the media coordinator for Feeding Souls. I’ve designed logos and I’m the one who publishes pictures along with a description about what we are doing regarding food and donations on our Facebook page. Feeding Souls has changed my life, not only because it has made me see the way some people in my own country live, but it has also given me the opportunity to do something I love, which is design and journalism.”
Donations of non-perishable food, shoes and clothing are always needed.
If you are a young person (5-21) and want to join in this opportunity, contact Valerie Echavarria at email@example.com or Margie Porter Stanfield at firstname.lastname@example.org using the subject line: Volunteer Feeding Souls.
Ivan Villegas and his law firm, CR Legal Studio, run a volunteer program. Racquetball Integral helps low-income kids get ahead in society. His program trains and encourages kids who are 6-18 by teaching them more than just racquetball skills. The program teaches values, discipline and honesty, and gives the students opportunities for a bright future.
With the intensive, three-day-a-week training program, some of the older students may be eligible for scholarships in the U.S. Volunteers are needed to help these kids in their academic pursuit of the English language. Also, athletes are welcome as well.
Villegas promotes the need for volunteers. “We are all involved in our own matters, jobs and families, and we all think that we should help others,” he said. “This is a great way to change society by providing opportunities to kids who are hungry for those opportunities. Volunteers can teach English and values to the kids, have a wonderful experience, get to know athletes, experience Costa Rica’s real roots, make friends and help others.”
He should know how great sports are for building character. When I heard that Villegas was a racquetball champion himself, I asked him about it.
“Ha ha! Yes I was Costa Rican champion, Central American gold medals several times and pro athlete in my free time, and travel half the world competing, but my real job is law,” he said.
Hogar Salvando el Alcohólico
If you are a Spanish speaker, you can help out here. This organization recruits and treats homeless alcoholics and works toward interning and helping in the recovery of those with substance abuse problems.
Director Franklin Hernández Morales says he is looking for volunteers to give motivational keynotes. If you have had past experience with alcohol or any substance abuse, you are welcome to come and give your testimony. The group is also looking for people who can offer yoga or mindfulness classes, psychology sessions, doctors, and people who can offer physical training like jumping rope, pushups, or “anything that can help them get their adrenaline going.”
“We need people to help motivate the 11 people interned here,” Hernández said. “They are all in a 20-day recovery process from substance addiction. Give them emotional support; show them that there is hope. Of course, food is the most important element. We always need food.”
Contact Hernandez Morales or his assistant Henry Arguello (in Spanish) at (506) 2288-1617 or 2100-8454 or email@example.com.
I hope to write more about free volunteer opportunities. Do you know of any Costa Rican organizations that need volunteers? Please feel free to send me the website of the organization, describe what kind of volunteer work is needed, and include the email and phone number of the organizer. You can also include that information in the comment box below. Thanks to Valerie Echavarría and Vicente Velez for helping to gather information for this article. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volunteering is the gift that keeps on giving! And nobody walks away empty-handed.
In this column, adventurer, author, teacher and parent Ilana Long explores fun things to do in Costa Rica that cost absolutely nada. Contact her at email@example.com.