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Looking for Unique Volunteer Opportunities?

Unshackle your imagination and follow it to volunteer experiences you never thought you’d have, from the Super Bowl to the Rose Parade

By Nancy Monson

Mary Nimer of Brookfield, Connecticut, has helped with crowd control at the Super Bowl in Phoenix, walked a balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York and decorated floats for the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California.

A group of superbowl volunteers waving outside. Next Avenue
Volunteers gathered in North Las Vegas, Nevada to create a pollinator garden prior to the Superbowl  |  Credit: Las Vegas Super Bowl LVIII Host Committee/Facebook

This year, she has applied to be among the volunteers who decorate the White House for the holidays. A retired teacher, Nimer is living her best life by seeking out exciting, out-of-the-box volunteer positions at major events. Her motivation: "I enjoy meeting people and participating in new experiences outside of my personal world," she says.

"Ushering gives me the opportunity to see plays, dance and music shows at no cost."

I myself have worked the "Green Room" for actors and directors at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and provided on-stage help to chefs at the Greenwich Wine + Food Festival in Connecticut, top-notch events where I got to be up close and personal with celebrities.

Think of an event, and it's highly likely it's looking for volunteers to help staff it, creating wonderful opportunities for retirees and older adults. If you love theater, for instance, consider being an usher.

"Ushering gives me the opportunity to see plays, dance and music shows at no cost," says Pat DeMatteo, a retired teacher who volunteers at The Shubert Theater in New Haven, Connecticut. She adds that she usually sits during the show if it isn't sold out.

"The Shubert asks that you commit to doing at least 10 shows a year, so I try to do one or two shows a month," she adds.

How to Apply

  • Start with a Google search. Volunteering typically starts with finding a suitable opportunity and applying online. "I am not a computer whiz," says Nimer, "but I Google 'how to volunteer to do X,' depending on my interest at the time, and that starts my search."
  • While well-known national events are enticing, consider more-local venues if you are on a budget and can't afford the expense of traveling to out-of-town events (most organizations expect you to pay your own travel and hotel costs).

Review volunteer expectations. Most groups require professional conduct and reliability from volunteers.

  • Apply far in advance. Popular events like decorating the White House and volunteering at sporting events get lots of volunteer applications. "Don't be discouraged if you don't get in the first year," says Nimer. "I've applied a few times for different events before being selected."
  • Review volunteer expectations. Most groups require professional conduct and reliability from volunteers. Also be sure you are up to the task of work you sign up for — you may be asked to stand for hours a day, be out in the cold or heat or get up super early or stay up late into the night. Be certain you understand whatever "onboarding" requirements the organization has, too, meaning if they expect you to be in town or online for training prior to the event.
  • Highlight your skills and talents.Think about what you can bring to the table at an event in terms of skills: Are you proficient with computers? Would you be comfortable driving others? Do you have decorating experience? Do you know how to repair costumes? Think about your work and volunteer histories as well as your hobbies so you can mention them in your application.
  • Be prepared for scrutiny. Many events require background checks to ensure the security of guests, performers and athletes.

Opportunities to Consider

The Super Bowl. The 2024 Super Bowl will be played on February 11th in Las Vegas, Nevada, and The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority is looking to recruit 10,000 local volunteers for game day. You can also sign up to volunteer for other sports and entertainment events in Las Vegas through the Authority at this link.

Sports Teams. Football, basketball, baseball, hockey, tennis, pickleball, golf — whatever sport you enjoy watching on television or playing yourself, you may be able to help your local professional and amateur teams out.

National Parks. Our national parks rely on volunteers to supplement their employees. It's a great way to enjoy nature, whether you want to volunteer for a day or all year round, near your home or somewhere exotic (to you). Opportunities are available in all U.S. states and territories and range from educating visitors to maintaining and rebuilding trails or historic buildings, helping to conduct research, serving as a campground host or producing art as part of an Artist-in-Residence program.

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Parades. Americans love parades, so there are lots of them to volunteer for, both locally and nationally. For the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, you have to be referred by a Macy's employee or one of their parade partner organizations to be a balloon holder or clown. For The Tournament of Roses Parade, a New Year's Day tradition held in Pasadena, California, you can sign up to apply flowers to floats under the guidance of professional floral designers.

Decorating the White House. Each year, volunteers come to Washington to help decorate the White House for the holiday season and work on or perform at Holiday Open Houses, held throughout December. Applications typically are open through early September and volunteers are notified by the end of September if they've been selected. Competition is fierce and many people have to apply several years in a row before gaining a spot.

Film Festivals. If you're interested in independent films, the Sundance Film Festival is an exclusive and exciting event held in Park City, Utah, every January. The festival, founded by actor Robert Redford, is looking for volunteers to do 6- to 8-hour shifts as ticket takers, ushers, drivers, computer operators and Lost & Found personnel, among other jobs.

You can commit to working the entire festival or just specific days, but you will need to be available for training ahead of time. Sundance also needs volunteers for its year-round programs at the Sundance Institute.

Other noteworthy film festivals are the Atlanta Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Palm Springs International Film Festival, South by Southwest TV & Film Festival and Telluride Film Festival.

Educational Events. If you are looking to learn, South by Southwest also hosts a conference for digital creatives in Austin featuring high-profile speakers where you can both volunteer and attend lectures. TED Talks, the nonprofit sponsor of conferences and presentations about the latest ideas in technology, education, design and other topics, are looking for volunteers who can transcribe and translate talks into different languages and may soon seek volunteers in various cities to assist on its events.

"Once you retire, your world becomes smaller," says Nimer. "To thrive, you have to tap into your areas of interest."

Nancy Monson is a writer, artist and coach. She is the author of "Craft to Heal: Soothing Your Soul with Sewing, Painting, and Other Pastimes," Connect with her on Instagram. Read More
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