Volunteer vacations or “voluntourism” are incredibly popular – they are a great way to take a break from work, school or home while feeling a sense of accomplishment that you have done something in service to someone else. The Sierra Club has taken the lead on these types of trips, adding more than 350 “outings” to their growing list of environmental conservation and protection programs. But what’s really interesting about the Sierra Club’s volunteer vacations is that most of them happen right here in the United States. While there are some trips abroad (and this is a work abroad blog, after all), the breadth and diversity of the Sierra Club’s trips does make you think about how little many of us know about the parts of the country we’ve never lived in. So today, we’re focusing on volunteer vacations abroad…in our own backyard.
Who is the Sierra Club?
The Sierra Club is one of the largest and most visible grassroots environmental organizations, comprising more than 1.4 million people worldwide. They believe in protecting wild lands, combating global warming, and creating a clean, safe world in which to live. To do these things, they engage members all over the country to support them both monetarily and as volunteers with environmental clean-up. They also support research for alternative energy sources, and advocate for greener business practices.
What are Sierra Club “service outings”?
In the spirit of engaging many people in their mission, the Sierra Club organizes “outings” year-round, across the globe. These outings can be for one to several days, and generally involve some serious work – from “helping with research projects at whale calving grounds in Maui to assisting with archaeological site restoration in New Mexico.” Service outings or “volunteer vacations” are generally conducted in partnership with local government agencies like the parks service, so you can be sure that the work that you are doing is well funded and necessary for the environmental success of the region. For more information about specific volunteer vacations, please visit the Sierra Club website.
When can I volunteer with the Sierra Club?
The Sierra Club runs program year-round. Trips begin every few days for most of the summer, and only trail off a bit once the colder winter months hit. Trips are generally about 6 days long, and include some time for travel in addition to the service project you will be working on.
How much does it cost?
The cost of a volunteer vacation with the Sierra Club will vary as much as the cost of any other vacation. A large part of the cost will be an airline ticket to your destination, which is not included in the program costs that you’ll pay directly to the Sierra Club. Program costs include room and board, meals, and supervision during the vacation.
A great part of the beauty of considering a volunteer “abroad” vacation right here in the U.S. in the substantial decrease in the cost of the project. You can still feel like an explorer as you clean up the shore of Northern California at the breathtaking Point Reyes (which comes complete with sunbathing seals!) or in the massive grounds of Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. You can even explore stunning natural habitats in the rainforests of Puerto Rico (and maybe even practice your Spanish!) as you help the U.S. Forest Service clear trails and protect the land. You’ll feel far away from home, while benefitting from never having to cross U.S. borders. The costs for trips like these vary from $500 – $1500.
How do I apply?
Once you’ve had the chance to scroll through the brochures for the Sierra Club’s many service adventures, you can start filling out your application by signing up through the website. There are also extensive instructions about how to secure your spot by leaving a deposit, and handling payment for the trip to the Sierra Club.
If you are definitely looking to go abroad, and are not enticed by the new frontiers of the United States, I’d encourage you to keep checking the Sierra Club website for information about trips abroad. They are great at updating their website with the most current information, and new trips are being planned all the time.
You can also get to know the Sierra Club a bit before you commit to a week long trip through the organization’s local chapters. They routinely plan day outings (including both leisure trips and service outings) all over the country, and they are a great way to find out more about how the Sierra Club operates, and you can probably get feedback from other volunteers who have been on volunteer vacations about their experiences. Find out how to get in touch with your local Sierra Club chapter by visiting the Chapters page on the Sierra Club website.