How to Choose a Volunteer Vacation that's Right for You - United Hub

How to choose a volunteer vacation that’s right for you

By Matt Chernov

When Oscar Wilde said “the smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention," he summed up the essence of volunteering. For many, that act of kindness begins at home, with time being donated to local charities. But recently, a growing number of people are combining their passion for travel with their desire to help others. These volunteer vacationers have touched countless lives, all while doing what they love to do. If you've been considering a volunteer vacation, here are several well-respected organizations that offer placement services for prospective travelers, along with some tips to help you choose the right one.

Habitat for Humanity International

Founded in 1976, this non-government organization is the largest non-profit home builder in the world. Habitat for Humanity International offers an excellent introduction to volunteerism by providing many different ways to help, including volunteering locally or joining trips to more than 40 different nations. Volunteers can work individually or as part of a larger group, and long-term opportunities are available for those who find the experience rewarding. If this sounds like something you might be interested in, visit one of their neighborhood beautification events and sign up to work for a day.

Global Vision International

For more than 15 years, this award-winning volunteer program has created safe and trustworthy opportunities for thousands of people to give back to the world in meaningful ways. In partnership with local communities and government organizations, Global Vision International provides aid in regions like Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. With more than 150 projects in 25 countries to choose from, volunteers work directly alongside the people they're helping. From construction to healthcare, women's empowerment to marine conservation, Global Vision International offers something for everyone. Even younger volunteers, between the ages of 15 and 17, can spend a summer abroad in one of Global Vision International's specially designed youth volunteering programs.

Earthwatch

Volunteers who are interested in nature and wildlife conservation will find themselves right at home with Earthwatch, a research and educational program that relies on volunteer scientists. Established in 1971, Earthwatch places volunteers on expeditions around the world, researching climate change, ocean health and cultural archeology. Depending on the nature of the work, expeditions can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. If you've ever wanted to investigate an active volcano in Nicaragua, help scientists study the effects of global warming on grizzly bears in Montana, or preserve the endangered coral reefs of the Cayman Islands, Earthwatch is waiting for you. The program offers opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds.

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms

World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (or WWOOF, as it's commonly known) is a loose network of national organizations that help volunteers who are interested in sustainable farming and organic agriculture. More than 100 countries around the world have WWOOF programs, making it one of the most popular volunteer vacation programs of its kind. Volunteers live on host farms and work directly with growers on daily chores, such as feeding, watering and milking livestock; planting, weeding and harvesting crops; and farm-related maintenance. Emphasizing international travel and global cooperation, WWOOF is as much a cultural exchange program as it is a volunteer initiative.

Discover Corps

Offering “travel with a purpose," Discover Corps is dedicated to helping volunteers immerse themselves in amazing cultures, while simultaneously giving back to those less fortunate. Working in partnership with the National Peace Corps Association, Discover Corps hosts volunteer vacations in countries like Costa Rica, Belize, Thailand and Cuba. All meals, lodging, transportation and fees are provided in-country by Discover Corps, leaving volunteers free to explore the road less traveled.

Volunteering tips:

Regardless of which program you choose, be sure to seek out direct testimonials from volunteers who've experienced it firsthand. You can find their reviews on the social media pages of each placement's organization, or by visiting the website Go Overseas, which collects honest feedback from hundreds of travelers who've previously volunteered.

Finally, here are a few common questions to ask that will help you select the volunteer vacation that's right for you:

  • What kind of projects will I be working on?
  • Will tools and work clothes be provided?
  • Is there laundry service at the location?
  • Is there electricity at the lodging?
  • Are there days off from work?
  • How hot or cold does it get?
  • What is the difficulty level?
  • What's the food like?

Entertainment for all

By The Hub team, August 04, 2020

Our Marketing Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity team and Bridge, our Business Resource Group (BRG) for people with all abilities, partnered together to test and provide feedback on our award-winning seatback inflight entertainment (IFE) system.

Aptly named "Entertainment for all," our new seatback IFE system offers the an extensive suite of accessibility features, allowing for unassisted use by people of all visual, hearing, mobility and language abilities.

"It's nice to know that I can get on a plane and pick my favorite entertainment to enjoy, just like every customer," said Accessibility Senior Analyst and Developer and Bridge Chief of Staff Ray C., who is blind.

"As a deaf employee, the closed captioning availability on board our aircraft is something I value greatly," added Information Technology Analyst Greg O. "The new IFE further cements United's visibility within the deaf community and elsewhere. It makes me proud to be an employee."

Accessibility features of the new IFE include a text-to-speech option, explore by touch, customizable text size, screen magnification, color correction and inversion modes, and alternative navigation options for those unable to swipe or use a handset. For hearing-impaired and non-English-speaking passengers, customization options provide the ability for customers to be served content and receive inflight notifications based on their preferences and settings —with closed captions, with subtitles or in the language of their choice from the 15 languages supported. Our "Entertainment for all" system won the Crystal Cabin Award in 2019, and recently, the Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl Research and Development Award for Audio Description by the American Council of the Blind.

"This really showed the benefits of partnering with BRGs in helping us improve products and services for our customers and employees," said Inflight Entertainment and Connectivity Senior Manager Corinne S. "Even though we have been recognized with awards for our IFE accessibility features, we are not resting on our laurels but continuing to work towards improving the inflight entertainment experience for all of our customers to ensure entertainment is available for all."

Shaping an inclusive future with Special Olympics

By The Hub team, July 24, 2020

If your travels have taken you through Chicago O'Hare International Airport anytime since October 2019, you may have had a friendly, caring and jovial exchange with Daniel Smrokowski. Daniel is one of four Service Ambassadors thanks to our ongoing partnership with Special Olympics. This inaugural ambassador program aims to provide Special Olympic athletes employment opportunities within our operation, affording them a unique and meaningful career.

Since 2018, our partnership with Special Olympics has become one of United's most cherished relationships, going beyond the events we take part in and volunteer with. While the plane pull competitions, polar plunges, duck derbies and Special Olympics World Games and other events around the world are a big part of our involvement, the heart of this partnership lies with the athletes and individuals supported by Special Olympics. To advocate for their inclusion in every setting is one of our biggest honors, and we take great pride in the role we play in the organization's inclusion revolution.

Aiding in the success of Special Olympics' mission to create continuing opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities, throughout the two-year partnership, United has volunteered over 10,500 hours and donated over $1.2 million in travel to the organization. The impact of this partnership is felt at every level, both at Special Olympics and within our own ranks.

"The Inclusion Revolution campaign, led by our athletes, aims to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. United Airlines has joined in our fight for inclusion, empowering our athletes with the skills needed to succeed and opportunities to contribute their abilities as leaders," said Special Olympics International Chairman Tim Shriver. "United Airlines believes that people with intellectual disabilities should be perceived as they really are: independent, world-class athletes, students, employees, neighbors, travelers, and leaders who contribute to make this world a better place."

Our Service Ambassador program is just one of the many ways Special Olympics has impacted not only our employees, but also our customers. "I see every day how our Service Ambassadors connect with our customers the moment they walk into the airport lobby," said Senior Customer Service Supervisor Steve Suchorabski. "They provide a warm, welcoming smile ad assist in any way they can. To see these young adults hold positions that a society once told them they couldn't is truly the most heartwarming part of my job," Steve continued.

"The opportunity to be a part of the United family means everything to me," Daniel said. "I feel so much pride showing up to work in a Special Olympics/United co-branded uniform, working among such a loving and supportive community. The relationship between these two organizations is truly helping to shape my future while letting me use my gifts of communicating and helping others. Hopefully, I can spend my entire career at United," Daniel added.

In honor of Special Olympics' Global Week of Inclusion in July, we're asking our employees, customers and partners to sign a pledge to #ChooseToInclude at jointherevolution.org/pledge.

And be sure to check out Daniel's podcast The Special Chronicles.

United works with partners to send food to USDA food bank

By The Hub team, July 23, 2020

In collaboration with food-logistics company Commodity Forwarders Inc. (CFI), United moved nearly 190,000 pounds of fresh produce to Guam for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Coronavirus Farm Assistance Program. This new program was created to provide critical support to consumers impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

A variety of fresh fruits were transported from Los Angeles (LAX) to Guam (GUM) on United's newly introduced, non-stop cargo-only flight – a route added to meet cargo demand during the COVID-19 crisis. The fresh food was repacked in 10-pound cases in Los Angeles, prepared for departure at CFI's LAX location, and flown to GUM by the United team. Through this beneficial partnership between United and CFI, the perishable goods were kept cool during every step of the process and distributed as part of the food bank program in Guam.

"Everyone on our team has worked relentlessly during the pandemic to get critical goods to where they are needed most. Establishing a comprehensive network of cargo-only flights have allowed us to keep the supply chain moving even while passenger flight capacity has been reduced," said Regional Senior Manager of Cargo Sales, Marco Vezjak. "Knowing that we are able to help during these difficult times – in this case the Guam community – is our biggest reward and greatest motivation to keep moving forward."

United is proud to play a role in maintaining the global food supply chain and helping people access the supplies they need. Since March 19, United has operated over 4,000 cargo-only flights, moving over 130 million pounds of cargo.

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