This is the eleventh post in my blog series about recharging and resetting your life, what I call retreating.
The email I received from the estate manager at Braemar House in Scotland was an invitation to help plant trees. I had started my career in forestry but eventually ended up a writer. Within ten years of graduating from college, I went from getting paid to hike around in the mountains of Montana to mostly sitting in front of a computer. By the time I reached out to Braemar House (which I discovered stumbling around the internet), I was determined to find an escape from an unfulfilling life—my next retreat adventure. Volunteering to plant trees would get me back to my forestry roots and give me a break from my current situation, which I desperately needed.
Several months after I received the invitation from Braemar House, I set out on my retreat to volunteer for a cause. What I thought would be a six-month break ended up being two years that changed my life. But you don’t have to commit to a long-term arrangement. You can volunteer retreat for as short as a weekend or a week, or for multiple weeks, months, or years, depending on the program and what suits you. You also don’t have to be desperate to get away, although sometimes that’s the motivating factor. Instead, all you need is a willingness to give your time and talents to a cause you feel passionate about or want to learn more about.
In the spirit of MLK Day this week, I encourage you to offer your time and talents to those who might benefit. Following are some resources to get you started.
Volunteer Match is an online consolidator that allows you to search for opportunities by cause and location. Not all of them are retreat-based per se, or offer getaways, but you might find a match that is.
CoolWorks is also an online consolidator whose tagline is “jobs in great places.” Some of the offerings listed are actual paid positions, but even many of those offer the chance to retreat to say, a national park where you can spend a summer being a campground host. Some opportunities include care-taking at retreats and serving nonprofit organizations. They also list volunteer work in exchange for room and board, and sometimes a stipend. Search by location, cause, or interest area.
Visit America’s Charities to find a cause and then reach out to an organization that you admire.
Interested in wildlife conservation? Visit my friend Sam’s webpage on conservation volunteering in Africa. Every year Sam takes a month off to volunteer for this cause. She’s even rated some of the organizations. I’ll be interviewing her in a future post about this work.
Type “volunteer for a cause AND retreats” into a search engine. Here are a random few I found:
Sedona Mago Retreat Center in Arizona has opportunities for volunteers to help out at the spa while also being allowed to participate in some of the programming. Minimal fee required.
Menla Retreat and Spa in New York’s Catskill Mountains has a volunteer week to work on forest trails. Minimal fee required.
Joy El retreat center in Pennsylvania is a Christian organization with a focus on youth camps.
Here are two other ideas for finding a potential cause for your volunteer retreat:
Ask your local chamber of commerce if they know of local organizations in need of volunteers. I have a friend who spends a week each year volunteering at a nearby away camp for at-risk youth, which she can drive to in an hour. Logistically, it works for her, and she comes home feeling good about being able to contribute to her community.
Ask leaders of your spiritual community. Many churches, synagogues, mosques, and other houses of spiritual gathering sponsor charitable organizations and specific causes in the U.S. and abroad.
For more links to retreats, including volunteering for a cause, visit my Resources page.
In future posts I’ll talk about what to expect and how to prepare for going away on an extended retreat. In the meantime, consider a volunteer retreat, long or short. It just may change your life.
Read about that next retreat adventure in Scotland I mentioned.