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Volunteering Online

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by Judith W (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer living in Perth. Having 2 young kids with endless energy, we are always on the lookout for new outdoor activities.
Published February 14th 2012
Volunteering Online

Nowadays many people opt to work from home instead of commuting to the office day in and day out. Some make this decision because they must, maybe they have little ones at home or it is impractical to travel great distances to and from work. But they might make this decision simply because they can. Technology has evolved sufficiently with services such as broadband internet and teleconferencing available from many homes, providing us with more opportunities to stay in the comfort of our home while being a productive citizen. It works well for many of us. We could get our feet up while reviewing a document, hang the laundry during coffee break, or prepare a report while wearing our pyjamas (no video conferencing, please).

The same equation could be applied to volunteering. Some people think that volunteering is just for extroverts who love to go out and meet people. Images of ourselves going out there and meeting total strangers are enough deterrents for many to say that "volunteering is not my cup of tea." Others would love to volunteer and strongly believe that it would benefit the community if everyone spends some of their time volunteering. But it is not always practical for them to go out and do it, often for the same reasons people cannot go out to work (e.g. young children, locations of home).

So, what are the options for these people who would like to volunteer but either cannot or do not feel comfortable going out to do so? The answer would be volunteering online.

Project Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders

Project Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders (PGDP) is one excellent example of volunteering online. Project Gutenberg is the first and largest collection of free eBooks which currently has over 38,000 offerings, including books by famous authors like Charles Dickens and Jane Austen, science books, magazines, children picture books, etc. And they are free because their copyright has expired.

However, books do not turn themselves into eBooks and this is where PGDP comes in. It is a volunteering group that convert books into eBooks. So what are the tasks of a volunteer in PGDP? If you are new, you will be assigned with the job of proofreading. It simply means comparing an image of a book page with the corresponding text. As the text is derived from the scanned page using a character recognition tool, mistakes are bound to happen, especially because most books are old to start with. Simple enough, isn't it? All you need is a computer, internet connection, and willingness to spend some time proofreading (one page at a time).

As you become more experienced, you could opt to do more complicated tasks such as formatting (adding the italics, bold, etc) or post-processing (collecting all the pages and making them into an eBook by adding illustrations, linking indexes, re-organising footnotes, etc.). Guidelines and mentors are provided, so you do not need to agonize over whether the ellipsis need three or four dots.

The Smith Family's iTrack Online Mentoring Program

The Smith Family is another place where you could volunteer online. Their iTrack Online Mentoring Program aims to support high school students through the school-to-work transition period. Mentors spend an hour per week during school terms to chat online with the student assigned to them, providing support and encouragement to these young people who are in the midst of considering their post-school options.

As the mentoring is done online, you do not have to meet your student face-to-face and you do not even have to be in the same state as your student. This way, you could provide support where it is needed most, wherever the need happens to be.

Unlike the PGDP where there is no regular time commitment, there is a requirement for the iTrack Online Mentors to be available at the same time every week (set by the student's school). Although it may sound limiting, having a clear requirement like this is actually a good motivator for those of us who tend to wonder where time goes by at the end of the day. Locking in the online mentoring hour in your schedule would ensure that you actually do what you aim to do, that is to spend some time in your busy life volunteering for the community.

Starlight Children`s Foundation's Chat Host Volunteers

Starlight Children`s Foundation is a national non-profit organisation which aims to brighten the lives of seriously ill and hospitalised children, and their families. To do this, they do various activities, the most obvious of which is fun hospital visits to make the hospital days less dreary for the sick children.

If clowning around is not your forte, you may want to take a look instead at another one of their progams called Livewire. It is an online community for young people living with a chronic health condition, disability or serious illness, and their families. This site provide them with a chance to connect with others in similar situations, interact, share experiences and creatively express themselves.

To assist in providing a safe online community, volunteers are needed as Chat Host Volunteers. Their roles among others are to provide support to the chat host by checking forums, blogs and assisting in chat room activities, as well as generate community activity by taking initiative, starting blogs, forums and encouraging member involvement/ interaction. All these could be performed as long as you have a home computer with internet connection and you feel comfortable using a computer to communicate.

Does any of these three sound like you? Well, go for it. Check out their websites to see how you could register your interest and take the first online step towards volunteering. If you happen to know other opportunities for online volunteering, do leave a comment as we would love to hear about it, too.
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Why? Because not all of us could go out to do volunteering work.
When: Some roles require regular time commitment, check their websites for details.
Where: From the comfort of your own home.
Cost: Free
Your Comment
I think it sad that people opt for volunteering online instead of getting out in the community and making a PERSONAL difference to people. Contrary to what Judith says, you don't have to be an extrovert to volunteer in real life. I volunteer in a large private hospital in Brisbane and many of the other volunteers go quietly about their business effectively, but not in any way as extroverts. Part of volunteering is having a love and respect for others, many less fortunate than ourselves. Online volunteering removes the very personal aspect of helping others and making a difference in their lives. It only needs from a few hours a week. The rewards in dealing personally with people are many. Lets not cop out by becoming another social network like Facebook. Make some time from your lives to contribute personally. You will find you will get more out of it than you put in.
Bob Meadows
by meado (score: 0|9) 3456 days ago
Judith - thanks for your article, very informative. I've heard this form of volunteering referred to as "microvolunteering" - the volunteering you can do when you don't have a lot of time. Another great on-line project similar to Gutenberg is the National Library of Australia's Trove Digitization Project - the National Library is digitizing old Australian newspapers - the computerised Optical Character Recognition program does its best, but it needs human eyes to interpret the bits near the creases, or the torn or smudged bits. It's incredibly interesting to read old articles (as you are correcting), literally transporting you back in time - I find it relaxing. You can dip in anywhere (you might decide to only do articles about your home town or suburb), and you can do as much or as little as you like. Being a good speller and having a good general knowledge can be put to good use here, and you feel you are contributing something of value as well as learning things. If you google "Trove" you'll soon find the site, and you can start volunteering instantly.
Thanks again for researching this
by djnwb (score: 0|3) 3441 days ago
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