Brooklyn’s best volunteer gigs

Help with the horses at GALLOP NYC
Help with the horses at GALLOP NYC

As the summer doldrums of un(der)employment run into fall, there’s only so much more you can take of casting letters into the job-market black hole while plugging away at the future Oscar-winning screenplay. Time to shake things up. Brooklyn’s full of volunteer gigs perfect for turning your routine on its under-used head, and for giving back to the borough a little bit too. Here are a few ideas that’ll beef up the resume (and get you out of the house) while you’re waiting for that big break.

DUMBO Arts Festival, 718-488-8588
For three days this month, the DUMBO Arts Festival will attract hundreds of cutting-edge international artists from the visual, performance, music, literary and digital fields. Volunteers are needed during the week prior to the fest (Sept. 17 to 23) and during the fest itself (Sept. 24 to 26). Jobs include setting up installations, guiding attendees and assisting in live performances. Sign up and get a foot backstage to one of the largest art events this side of the East River.

826NYC, 718-499-9884
Hidden in a “secret” room behind the Park Slope Superhero Supply Store lies the headquarters of 826NYC. Founded by writer Dave Eggers (of McSweeney’s fame), 826NYC is dedicated to helping children and teens improve their writing through one-on-one attention and tutoring in after-school programs and workshops. Use your writing skills to help students with assignments, teach English language skills and even staff the superhero storefront.

Fixers’ Collective, 718-243-1572
The Fixers’ Collective (which we’re big fans of) is a group of folks in Gowanus who fix anything from bikes to old clocks. They always need help working on dropped-off items, so if you’re particularly handy (or want to learn), then stop by and see how you can help. Get your hands dirty, meet new people, and help keep more stuff out of the trash!

GALLOP NYC, 646-413-0469
If you love animals and working with people, considering Brooklyn- and Queens-based GALLOP (Giving Alternative Learners UpLifting Opportunities). They are a non-profit dedicated to helping adults with developmental disabilities build confidence through horseback riding. Volunteers receive training in leading horses and working with people to create a fun therapeutic riding environment.

RightRides, 718-522-0822
Sure, you gave up your wheels when you moved to Brooklyn, but don’t let yourself get rusty on the road. With RightRides, you can help prevent harassment and sexual assault, and get back behind the wheel, by giving free, safe, late-night transport home for women, LGBTQ and “nonconforming” individuals. RightRides always needs drivers and navigators who know local neighborhoods. They provide the car and gas, you provide a valid driver’s license.

BRIC Arts Media, 718-855-7882
BRIC, a Brooklyn-based arts and media coalition, is the driving force behind the summer’s awesome concerts in Prospect Park. But they also produce other performing art, gallery shows and community television year-round. No matter what your artistic predilection, BRIC has tons of chances to rub elbows with Brooklyn artists while exposing the public to great work.

Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 718-623-7260
The BBG needs lots of help maintaining its 52 acres and numerous gardens, so why not get outside, get sunburnt and meet some people? Lead informational workshops. Teach children about plants and gardening. You can even put in some elbow grease by keeping plants trimmed and watered, paths clear and the grounds beautiful for visitors.

Prospect Park Zoo, 718-399-7339 Ext. 325
For something a little livelier than plants, consider becoming a docent at the Prospect Park Zoo. They offer an extensive training program that will prepare you to lead tours and man info stations. Being a docent means a long-term commitment, but you’ll be trained in conservation and biology and become well acquainted with other animal-lovers.

Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition (BARC), 718-486-7489
BARC is Brooklyn’s home-grown animal shelter with a menagerie of adorable dogs and cats, all mostly strays found in the borough. Volunteers are needed to socialize and care for the animals, especially walking (and cleaning up after!) dogs. The downside? You might wind up adopting dozens of irresistible fur-balls.

Brooklyn Greenway Initiative (BGI), 718-522-0193
The BGI is an ambitious project to create a 14-mile bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly path running along the waterfront from Greenpoint to Sunset Park. Four miles have already been opened, but there’s more to be done. Volunteers are needed for administrative duties, technical planning and just keeping the existing trail clean and well-maintained.

Brooklyn Children’s Museum, 718-735-4400
Remember how awesome children’s museums were when you were a kid? Why not help out with the oldest one in the country? The BCM is home to 30,000 artifacts and tons of cool exhibits. Fun role-playing, interactive exhibits and guided tours expose children to science, nature and history. You can help by greeting visitors, manning phones and running membership drives.

These ideas are only a springboard to get you giving back to Brooklyn and rounding-out your under-utilized self. Websites like Catchafire and CitizenSchool connect people with specialized training to the needs of non-profits and locals. Resources such as the Brooklyn Bureau of Community Service, the NYC government and New York Cares also offer centralized lists of long-term and one-off chances to volunteer, including tutoring children and even assisting emergency services.

And finally, local religious organizations constantly run events to help those in need (and need volunteers from any faith). Who knows? You might find a new life passion… or at least some fodder for your screenplay.


  1. The Brooklyn Lyceum Theatre is looking for volunteer box office staff, ushers, cafe workers and production crew for all upcoming productions and events. Volunteers will have the opportunity to work closely within a growing and changing theatre in the Gowanus/Park Slope area of Brooklyn! Complimentary tickets will also be available. Please email [email protected]

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