Sheryl Kayne’s favorite volunteer vacations


“Volunteer travel is the best way to become part of the local scene, to give of yourself, to see the benefits of your shared skills and time, and to return home with fond memories,” says Sheryl Kayne, author of “Volunteer Vacations Across America” (Countryman Press, 2009). Here are some of her favorite volunteer vacations in the U.S.

Heifer Ranch

Perryville, Ark.

Heifer International works to end world hunger by providing sustainable gifts of livestock and agricultural training to impoverished people around the world. The 1,200-acre ranch welcomes volunteers, who participate in caring for livestock, supporting administrative operations and putting together educational programs for the public. (501) 889-5124,

The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp

Ashford, Conn.

Founded in 1988 by Paul Newman, this wonderful facility provides a recreational and therapeutic camping experience for children with serious medical problems. Open from early June through late August, it welcomes volunteers who serve as camp counselors. (860) 429-3444,

Navajo Nation

Tuba City, Ariz.

For a volunteer opportunity that’s also a cultural experience, you can spend a week at the Navajo Nation in Tuba City. Amizade, a worldwide community service organization, enlists volunteers to tutor Navajo schoolchildren, organize recreational activities and assist with cultural programs. Volunteers also participate in Navajo traditions so that they can learn about and experience the culture. (304) 293-6049,

Continental Divide Trail

Rocky Mountain Region

The Continental Divide Trail, which traverses the spine of the Rocky Mountains from Canada to Mexico, was designated a National Scenic Trail in 1978. Each year from May through early October, the nonprofit Continental Divide Trail Alliance recruits volunteers to help repair, maintain and expand various segments of the trail. This is a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors while helping to preserve a national treasure for future generations. (888) 909-2382,

Climbing for Kids

Bay Area Wilderness Training

Climbing for Kids is a fundraising event sponsored by Bay Area Wilderness Training, which creates opportunities for at-risk and underprivileged youth in the San Francisco Bay Area to get outdoors, explore the wilderness and experience nature. Volunteer climbers secure sponsors and choose a peak to climb. (510) 452-2298, Ext. 304,

Island Conservation and Preservation

Avalon, Calif.

Spend a weekend or a week on Catalina Island helping to restore the ecosystem and preserve native plants and animals. Different levels of physical activities are offered. (310) 510-2595, Ext. 102,

Surfrider Foundation

San Clemente

Volunteers are always needed at the Surfrider Foundation in San Clemente and its more than 60 chapters on the East, West, Gulf and Hawaiian coasts. Surfrider, a nonprofit organization founded by Malibu surfers in 1984, supports initiatives to reduce pollution and ensure that coastal environmental resources are protected. Volunteers work beach cleanups, collecting and testing water samples. (949) 492-8170,

Historic Shotgun Houses

Cairo, Ill.

As part of a redevelopment effort in this historic town at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, volunteers can spend a week next June helping to renovate an abandoned shotgun-style house. These post-Civil-War-era dwellings are built on narrow lots one-room wide and with all doors aligned. Volunteers work with building conservation specialists to rehabilitate the home. The program is organized by Adventures in Preservation in partnership with Southern Illinois University and local residents. (303) 444-0128, adventuresinpreservation

Elephant Sanctuary

Hohenwald, Tenn.

This is the nation’s largest natural habitat refuge for elephants retired from circuses and zoos. The sanctuary has separate environments for Asian and African elephants. Volunteers help with painting, fencing, facility renovation and construction of new habitat areas. (931) 796-6500,

Heron Lake State Park

Los Ojos, N.M.

Many state parks nationwide need assistance with special events. At New Mexico’s Heron Lake State Park, volunteers can help with the Osprey Festival held each July to spotlight one of North America’s largest birds of prey, which nests in the park. Festival volunteers are trained and used as needed for activities, including pontoon boat tours, assisting naturalists with live raptor exhibits, and helping visitors view osprey nests. (575) 588-7470,



The nonprofit Earthwatch Institute ( has amazing volunteer expeditions, such as researching climate and caterpillars in Arizona or mapping change in California’s mountains.

Senior Corps ( offers volunteer activities across the U.S. for those age 55 and up.

Jim Elliott teaches volunteers to scuba dive and they, in turn, help kids and veterans with disabilities learn to dive. They travel all over the globe.