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Volunteering is a strong sub-culture in the USA

Many Americans you meet will have some volunteer commitment, connected to their work, children or neighbourhood. If you have time on your hands and are looking for a productive way to fill it with the added bonus of meeting new people, you will find lots of organizations who are only too glad to make use of whatever time you can spare.

Norfolk Botanical Garden

A group of NATO spouses volunteers at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens every other Wednesday. Not all the team attends on each occasion, but normally there are between 4 and 15 of us and we meet at 9 a.m. at the gardens and work through until midday (with an essential and much appreciated break for coffee!). We prune and weed, mulch, plant and divide plants and pretty much whatever else needs doing, directed by a member of the garden staff. If the weather is too bad then work can be done inside – before Christmas we bagged bulbs for giving to visitors to the Christmas lights tour.

Over the hottest months few still go but you can if you wish as long as you let the co-ordinator know. We work together as a group but if you wished to go outside the usual hours you might be working with other volunteers from elsewhere.

Our efforts have a dual benefit for the garden. Firstly, there is the obvious benefit of extra manpower. The gardens have minimal funding and so very few paid employees, on whom the burden of keeping everything going falls. Secondly and equally important, the level of funding the gardens receive is directly related to the amount of volunteer activity they can generate; more volunteer hours equals more money. Put simply, the Botanical Gardens could not function without its army of volunteers. The benefits for the volunteers are also twofold; we get fit from the exercise (!) and are given free access to the garden for yourself and a car full of people as often as you like (useful for when you have visitors), free hands-on workshops, discount in the shop and café and appreciation events (including free entry to the Christmas Lights display).

If you would like more information please get in touch, either with me (Denise Mountain) for the Wednesday group, or with the Volunteer Services Manager, Debra Burrell (tel. 757 441 5830, email

REACH and read out loud to Children

Another activity you might enjoy if you have a couple of hours available one evening a month is, REACH, a reading aloud programme for children in one of the local shelters for women and children. A team of NATO wives and others read to children aged from about 3 to about 8 at a local shelter and because there are so many of us we don’t all need to go each time so it can fit in with your other commitments. Children in the shelters have already experienced tremendous upheaval and many have had their schooling disrupted too. They really enjoy being read to (or you can do a craft activity for an hour if you prefer) and after the session are allowed to choose a couple of books from a stock supplied by the REACH organization to keep for their own.

You can choose which books you want to read – I get mine from the library as my children are not that age range. Sometimes there are no children to read to, which is great as it means that no kids are in the shelter that week, but we never know how many if any in advance. Our group goes to a shelter in Virginia Beach but there are others if that would suit you better.

The contact for further information is Jordan Hall (tel 757 627 4722, email ) and you will need to provide her with some personal information so that you can be security cleared to work with the children.

Helping out our four legged friends

If animals are your thing then local animal shelters need help. Check out your local Petsmart for information on local needs. Some stores have pet adoption centres and rescued animals are on show in the stores for potential adopters; these animals need care and at my local store there is always space on the rota for more volunteers to feed, clean out and fuss the ones who are waiting to be chosen. There is an obvious danger alert with this one as you might find it difficult to resist taking home a little furry friend!

Food bank

The Food Bank is another great cause to get behind and the local neighbourhood associations are usually looking for volunteers for projects. In fact there is bound to be a volunteering opportunity for you, whatever your interest or time constraints. I even have a friend who volunteers with her local police department!

For more information about volunteering in Virginia Beach click here – check out the Office of Volunteer Resources page and find something that suits you, here are just a few ideas.

● Junior Lifeguard ● WSI Aide ● Swim League Scorers and Timers ● Earth Day Volunteer ● Adopt-a-Programs (Beach, Highway, Landscape Maint., Park, School Ground, Spot, Street, Trail, Waterway) ● Clean the Bay Day (Volunteer, Zone Captain) ● Golf Course Host ● Out-of-School Time Programs  ● Park Aide ● Keep Norfolk Beautiful ● Nauticus ● Neighborhood Preservation ● Public Libraries ● Virginia Zoo