Don’t Be Shy, Jump Into Volunteering

Whether NASA or PETA is more your speed, volunteering will keep you stimulated, introduce you to a community and give you a way to give back, sober

January 17, 2023
Woman with dog volunteering at veterinary clinic

It’s free, it’s fun, it brings people together and it feels good to do it. You know what we’re talking about: That’s right, volunteering!

If you’re sober and still casting around for things to do with your time, move volunteering up to the top of your to-try list. There are opportunities for people of all interests and skills, whether you want to work with kids or get your boots muddy at a national park.

Volunteering will introduce you to a new community, create opportunities for new relationships, enable you to give back and help you foster a sense of purpose — all of which are incredibly rewarding, whether you’re giving sobriety a test run for Dry January or looking to live your fullest in recovery.

And If you’re further along in recovery, volunteering can give you the chance to be supportive, to provide accountability and, ultimately, to help others achieve what you have.

You need not be a saint to volunteer, but finding the right fit for your talents and energies is essential. Volunteering might not always be a walk in the park, but it should be enriching for you, and it should not put an extra burden of stress on your sobriety. There are a few other considerations — and thousands of opportunities. Let’s get started.

Things To Consider Before Committing

The first consideration in volunteering is, of course, time: how much you have and how much they need. Obviously, you’ll want to land a gig that fits your schedule. Scheduling and time commitment info is usually available when you’re researching volunteering activities, but if it’s not, you can ask one of the staff or other volunteers.

Consider the time that you have to give back, but also what kind of work you’re equipped to do along the way. Are you able to help load big bags of dog food into an animal shelter storeroom or clear brush from a forest, or are you looking for more of a sit-down situation where you can answer phones, design websites or research fascinating topics? Either option works, but just be realistic about your abilities and interests.

Finding That Just-Right Fit

Next, focus on what you enjoy! Here are some questions to ask yourself when trying to find the best fit.

  • What are your interests?
  • What are your hobbies?
  • What gives you satisfaction in life?

There are usually readily available volunteer opportunities that align with your answers. When you enjoy what you do, you’ll feel more fulfillment in doing it.

One of the best ways to identify a volunteer opportunity is to think about what you like to do outside of work.

  • Do you like to be around people?
  • How about animals?
  • Do you enjoy being outdoors?
  • Do you have a busy schedule?

These are just a few ideas to kick-start your selection process. Don’t be afraid to consider options that also provide you with some kind of benefit — you’re trying to stay sober, after all. Volunteering doesn’t have to be one-sided. You can, and hopefully will, benefit as much as those you are giving your time to. Once you identify the “field” you want to pursue, it’s time to start searching.

Where Can I Find Volunteering Opportunities?

An internet search is the fastest and easiest way to find volunteer opportunities. If you have a specific organization in mind, you can check out their website or call them to ask if they have openings. Websites and social media pages for both specific organizations and volunteering in general can provide you with a lot of information about upcoming opportunities and how to get involved in them.

Participation is another great way to find volunteer opportunities. If you participate in a one-off event or use an organization’s services, ask how you can get involved. The internet is great, but nothing beats speaking directly to the source!

Whether you’re into leading tours at a local museum or captaining a registration desk at a community drive, volunteer opportunities are ready and waiting. Most organizations are always on the lookout for volunteers.

If you’re looking for a little more specificity, here are some categories to consider.


Cleanup: You can always take it upon yourself to clean up your neighborhood, a street, a park or a beach. Or join a group that does it together, for some bonding time with fellow folks who care. There are plenty of local and national organizations that promote sustainability, recycling or taking care of the environment.


Animal shelters: Look into local rescues and shelters that may be looking for people to work events, walk dogs or help clean cages. Giving some love to animals is a great way to volunteer because they aren’t shy about showing you love and thanks in return.


Item drives: Grocery stores, donation centers and nonprofits often collect nonperishable goods, clothes, toys and school supplies to donate to neighborhoods or outreach programs.

Walks and runs: If you have a cause you are passionate about, or just like to be outside, awareness or fundraising walks/runs usually go on all year ’round.

Substance Use and Mental Health

Meetings: If you’re in recovery, sharing your story and perspective at support group meetings, offering to make coffee and cleaning up are some small things you can do to help maintain the spaces and encourage others to participate.

Sponsorship: This type of volunteering is a little more extensive and requires more time and effort, because you are working with someone to help them navigate their sobriety. This is usually only done by those who have significant recovery time and the ability to dedicate consistent time to the individuals they sponsor, to best help them work on their recovery.

Connection, community, a sense of purpose and acts of service: These are the bedrocks of recovery, and some of them are key to the well-being of anyone, sober or not. You may not find them at your 9-to-5, but you almost certainly will with a volunteer gig. There’s an org out there waiting for your sign-up!

More Relaunch

Depressed man sitting at wooden table

Subs & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Part 3: 'I'm a Loser (And I'm Not What I Appear To Be)'

Don Fertman reaches bottom as the jelly donut hits the wall. The latest installment of the longtime Subway exec's memoir.

Don Fertman

Subs & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Part 2: A Day in the Life

Don Fertman woke up one morning 40 years ago and poured himself a drink, as usual. But the future Subway exec didn't know this day would be far from ordinary.

Don Fertman

Subs & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Part 1: With a Little Help From My Friends

Don Fertman, longtime Subway exec, writes about a pivotal moment in his 40 years of sobriety: what happened after he went public about his recovery on "Undercover Boss."

Laptop near a Christmas tree

Here's How To Make the Office Holiday Party Recovery-Friendly

Four ways to make your holiday party more inviting to employees who are in recovery, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.

Man and woman at break room table with coffee

How Can I Be a Sober Ally in the Workplace?

You're not in addiction recovery, but you want to show up for people who are. Great! Here's what that looks like at the office.

Woman and man with coffee standing by the water cooler at work

Is Alcohol Big in Your Work Culture? Here's How To Sidestep — Or Talk About It

The "Mad Men" era may be over, but some workplaces can still be particularly challenging in recovery. Some pointers on putting your sobriety first.

Two women talking in a garden

Your Guide To Hanging Out and Making Friends in College — Sober

Doing college sans drugs and alcohol doesn't have to be a struggle. Some tips on making bonds that'll last and having a blast.

Men and women in a recovery-friendly workplace

The Benefits of a Recovery-Friendly Workplace

Also called a "recovery-ready workplace," it's a winning proposition for high-quality employers and employees alike.

New Report