Smile Politely

Make the most of your time this summer

Three images, left to right: on the left, a pitbull mix doc sitting on a bench, with its tongue poking out; a woman bends down to nail in boards on a house build; a woman in a mask and apron in a kitchen sprinkles something onto chicken wings on a baking sheet.
Champaign County Humane Society; Habitat for Humanity of Champaign County on Facebook; Jubilee Cafe CUCC on Facebook

For the last few years, we have published an end-of-year article that lists several ways in which people can give back to the community to make the most of holiday season generosity. But now summer is here. With the schools out, young people — like the many University of Illinois students who live here year round and local high schoolers — might need something to do with their extra time. We wanted to look at the ways in which young people can volunteer or further integrate themselves into communities in Champaign-Urbana, if they so desire. Whether you’re a young person reading this, or a grown-up with young adults in their life, we hope this article will guide young people to find ways to further develop and discover their interests, skills, and relationships to this community, all while possibly giving back in a meaningful way. 

Of course, these opportunities are not age-based; anyone with some free time and goodwill should consider them. Please also note that this is not a comprehensive list; we have not included any organizations that work with kids because those generally require longer-term commitments, beyond a summer break. Likewise we have not included any health or medical organizations, as there are countless ways people can volunteer time with Carle, OSF, and Clark Lindsey. Even without those types of opportunities, there are a lot of organizations that could use some help over the summer. 

Helping Animals

Champaign County Humane Society 

Volunteers must be over the age of 18. There are plenty of ways you can get involved, and different tasks that need to be completed that won’t necessarily require you to interact with the animals individually. Learn more on the CCHS website

Hospice Hearts

Hospice Hearts is an entirely volunteer-based non-profit, and like CCHS, there are tasks and activities that don’t require directly handling animals. You can register to volunteer on the organization’s website, specifying your skills and interests. 


Champaign Area Trap Spay Neuter and Adoption Program is another volunteer organization that works specifically with cats, and has all sorts of needs, including for grant writers. Volunteers under the age of 18 must have a parent volunteer with them (which could be a really meaningful way to bond with your kid / parent) and you can fill out the volunteer form online

Society for Hooved Animal Rescue and Emergencies (SHARE)

SHARE is volunteer and donation-based rescue for horses and donkeys. Volunteers must be 16 or older; the rescue is in Dewey so would require a short drive from C-U. You can learn more about volunteering on their website

Conservation / Environmentalism / Outdoors

Champaign County Audubon Society 

Champaign County Audubon Society is committed to “promot[ing] interest, enjoyment and understanding about all aspects of our natural environment.” The organization works to conserve and protect native and natural environments. Like most other non-profits, there are volunteer opportunities in the “field” and in the office. Learn more on the organization’s website

Prairie Rivers Network 

Prairie Rivers Network doesn’t have all that many explicitly traditional volunteering opportunities available on their website at the moment, but the conservation organization provides a list of actions you can take from home, without formal involvement. 

Champaign County Forest Preserve 

You don’t need to have any specific experience to volunteer with the Champaign County Forest Preserve. There are a lot of opportunities to work in the realm of education, as there are several visitors and education centers within CCFP. Children as young as 11 can be volunteer counselors in training. 

Food Pantries

Daily Bread Soup Kitchen serves lunch every single day. Volunteers must be over 16, or over 14 with an accompanying, volunteering parent. You can sign up here

Jubilee Cafe feeds people every Monday, and during the summer when most students have left campus, there is a real need for volunteers. You can sign up online — tasks and times are clearly delineated. 

Wesley Food Pantry uses the same system; when you sign up online you know exactly where you need to go and what you will be doing. 

Social Justice 

UP Center

Uniting Pride of Champaign County is always in need of volunteers. The LGBTQ+ organization maintains a volunteer email list; you can sign up on the website. Now that we’re in June, there will be a lot of opportunities to learn more about what the UP Center does through in-person Pride Month events. C-U celebrates Pride in a big way in September, too, once students are back on campus, which means even more ways to participate. 

Make Wikipedia pages

This, technically, is not an organized volunteer opportunity, but it’s one that could have a huge impact on the causes you care about. There are countless people and organizations — often women and Black, Indigenous, and people of color — in need of more “formalized” information on the internet. Wikipedia is a publicly-edited resource, meaning anyone can create a page or edit a page. Do some research on the artists, thinkers, activists, and organizations that matter to you: collect the sources of publicly available information and craft the narrative. Or, organize an edit-a-thon

Other Stuff

Champaign Urbana Public Health District

There are a number of opportunities and ways to get involved with CUPHD; information regarding internships and volunteer opportunities are available on the website

Habitat for Humanity

If you’re interested in building things, volunteer with Habitat to help build houses for families in need. If that’s too labor intensive, consider volunteering on the ReStore side of things, which is Habitat’s retail storefront.

Champaign or Urbana Park Districts

There are various ways to volunteer time with the park districts, including working with kids, working events, and doing stuff outdoors. Look over each park district’s website (Champaign; Urbana) for specifics. 

There are so many incredible organizations that really need support, especially at a time of year when a large portion of C-U is not here. Where do you volunteer your time and energy? Let us know via email or in the comments of our social media pages. 

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker. 

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