As summer vacation is just a few weeks away, most students will be left with plenty of free time. Some use this time to work at their job, play sports, spend time doing their favorite hobbies or hang out with friends and family. However, one of the most effective and beneficial ways to spend time is to volunteer.

From working with animals to helping those in need, Naples offers many places to volunteer for. Students can find the perfect place to volunteer based on their personal preferences at the Collier County Nonprofit Directory.

Collier Harvest Foundation

Not knowing when the next meal will arrive can be a scary thought, but the Collier Harvest Foundation helps feed the hungry by distributing meals through volunteers.

The process is more individual-based rather than working in large groups. There are no requirements to volunteer, but there are some recommendations.

“It helps if you have your own transportation; therefore, high school students and above work well,” Connie Preu, Executive Director of the Collier Harvest Foundation, said. “At times it is a physical job, so close-toed shoes and comfy clothes really help.”

The job includes picking up and dropping off the food at the agencies, making the meals and delivering them to the schools that will distribute it.

“From August to May each month of the school year, we deliver grocery bags to East Naples, Golden Gate and Immokalee Middle Schools,” Preu said. “Each school receives 50 bags [and] each bag contains about eight meals that will feed a family of four.”

Volunteering here is simple. Just email Preu asking how to help, and she will point everyone in the right direction.

“The main time period when we are in need of volunteers is with our school program,” Preu said. “It is a wonderful community time when people come together to help their neighbors in need.”

Freedom Waters Foundation

As summer rolls around, spending time on the water is definitely one of the first activities that pops into mind. There is even a way to volunteer through boating experiences at the Freedom Waters Foundation.

The Freedom Waters Foundation provides veterans and those with special needs with an experience they will never forget. The volunteers help them enjoy their day either behind the desk, on the boats or at expos.

“The volunteers are either referred to us or self-referred, and we then arrange the appropriate boat outing for them, schedule it, coordinate it and host them out on the water with lunch and water provided,” Debra Frenkel, the Founder and Executive Director of the Freedom Waters Foundation, said. “Private and commercial boat owners donate their time and use of their vessels for all of our boat outings.”

Although the experience can be very exciting, there are certain requirements to become a volunteer here.

“A volunteer must be dedicated, honest, responsible, passionate, caring, kind and work well with others,” Frenkel said. “We have a variety of volunteer opportunities so different volunteers have different requirements. Anyone who wants to volunteer can sign up on our website and then we try to get all volunteers as soon as we can.”

While helping others enjoy their day, every interaction is unique to each volunteer.

“Each experience is different,” Frenkel said. “But every part is crucial to making the participants feel welcomed and loved.”

Books for Collier Kids

For those who want a more relaxed volunteering experience, Books for Collier Kids is an excellent option. 

“We distribute high quality, new, and age and curriculum appropriate books to children ages three years through the second grade at all the Title 1 elementary schools in Collier County,” Sallie Williams, the Board Chair for Books for Collier Kids, said.

The kids receive one book a month to take home and cherish. These books help the children expand their knowledge and use their critical skills to help them grow.

“Our volunteers help with book sorting and just last week, about 10 volunteers worked for four hours and sorted 15,000 books for the ‘fighting summer slide’ program,” Williams said.

There are also plenty of other ways to directly engage with the children in the program. Books for Collier Kids donate their books to other organizations such as the Fun Time Early Childhood Academy, the Boys and Girls Club and the Salvation Army. At these places, volunteers can read books to the kids to watch them grow and expand their knowledge.

“I just love seeing the smiles on their faces when they pick up their books,” Williams said. “It brings me so much joy.”

The Humane Society

Thousands of animals are abandoned and left behind every day, but the Humane Society rescues these pets and returns them to safe and loving homes.

However, due to COVID-19, the Humane Society is only working with current volunteers.

“We are currently not taking on any new volunteers,” Meredith McLean, the Outreach Manager of the Humane Society, said. “Orientations for new volunteers will most likely resume again in the fall. The date is still to be determined.”

For those that want to still find a way to volunteer here, the Humane Society is now providing offsite opportunities for students. To sign up, you can visit the Humane Society’s Volunteer website.

Students will need to visit our volunteer page and complete the registration form,” McLean said. “If you are under 18 years old, your parent or guardian must fill out the form. We ask that students review the Humane Society Naples website to learn more about us and what we do as an organization.”

After signing up, the volunteer must follow a step-by-step process.

“Students will then spend time creating pet fleece beds or snuffle mats,” McLean said. “Once this step has been completed, students will need to submit a summary form. The summary form gathers information on what the student has completed as well as some reflection questions. After that, students will contact our volunteer coordinator to schedule an appointment to deliver items to our main shelter.”

Volunteering at the Humane Society is unlike any other volunteering experience.

“We provide lots of hours and it’s such a fun experience,” McLean said. “I can tell that [the volunteers] really enjoy it.”

The Volunteering Experience

Volunteering is a fun and rewarding way to spend your time during the summer as it has many benefits. They range from helping those in need to gathering hours to spending free time.

“Volunteering is what helps me feel better about life,” Denise Murphy, a common volunteer, said. “It’s how I spend my free time and I enjoy it a lot. It’s a great experience that I think that many people should take advantage of.”