Giving Back: Where to Volunteer in Boston

Posted September 30, 2013 by Emily Mahlman in Downtown Boston
Winners of Build's Business Plan Competition

When you think of volunteering and community service, you may think of the countless charity walks along the Charles, planting a tree, or serving meals. And those are very worthy ways to give back to our community and those in need. But there is a new wave of ways to volunteer in Boston, and these ways can align with your career, skills, and interests. Below is a sampling of nonprofits downtown and ways to volunteer that may be right up your alley.

Year Up

Located on Summer Street in Downtown Crossing, Year Up provides urban young adults with one year of intensive training both in the classroom and in the corporate environment. Gerald Chertavian, a finance-sector alum, created Year Up in 2001. He was inspired by his own experience with Big Brothers, Big Sisters, plus the knowledge that certain careers require more than a high-school education but less than a four-year degree. Bridging the skills gap can put a young person on the road to a career, not just a job.

Year Up students learn these skills first in the classroom and then in internships with the IT departments of large corporations or the offices of financial firms. The nonprofit provides multiple options for professionals to volunteer and help Year Up students, from a one-time volunteer option (conducting mock interviews, holding a resume workshop, or being a guest speaker) to four-month tutoring stints or one-year commitments to mentoring a student one on one.

I had the privilege of speaking to a Year Up class. The questions they asked me were thoughtful, and demonstrated they were really thinking about their futures and how to succeed. Year Up is currently recruiting mentors and tutors, so this is a great time to get involved.


While Build is starting its third year here in Boston, it has been changing the lives of Bay Area young people for over a decade. Build uses entrepreneurship to excite and propel disengaged, low-income students through high school, into college, and on to success. Build recruits students from several “feeder” schools, all Boston Public Schools, and invites them to enter into the four-year program. The students first take an entrepreneurial class in their own school and then, during sophomore year, they start to meet at Build’s Youth Business Incubator—part classroom, part business headquarters—in downtown Boston. Student teams create business plans, manufacture their products, find investors and run their own small businesses, gaining real-world business experience to supplement traditional schoolwork. Entrepreneurship lessons complement the tutoring and SAT prep work, which help students get closer to college.

Like Year Up, Build is currently recruiting mentors who, according to their volunteer coordinator, “work directly with the students on a consistent basis, coaching them on their businesses as well as encouraging them to keep up with and excel in their academics.” Mentors meet with students one afternoon or evening per week, but there are other opportunities that are less of a time commitment and still make a huge difference in the lives of students. They include tutoring, evaluating students’ business plans, serving as a judge at the Business Plan Competition, and even helping them design their business logos. You can bring your own professional skills to the table and help put these high schoolers on the road to success. Build is having a volunteer open house on September 17 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at their Youth Business Incubator at 6 Beacon Street.

Make-A-Wish Foundation

Many of us are familiar with the Make-A-Wish Foundation’s mission: making the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses come true. You can help make that happen and be there when that little boy or girl’s wish becomes a reality.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation’s volunteering opportunities include being a “wish granter,” which entails meeting with families, helping an ill child identify his or her wish, and assisting in enhancing the wish experience. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a day than taking children on the shopping spree of their lives, or getting a group of friends together to help give a child’s bedroom a makeover. In particular demand are volunteers who are bilingual; Spanish, Portuguese, and Mandarin are high priorities.

Make-A-Wish of Massachusetts and Rhode Island—which is headquartered at Bulfinch Place—has a twice-a-week e-mail blast that details all the volunteer opportunities currently available. You can sign up to get those e-mails by visiting their website.

And these are just a few ways to volunteer in Boston. Whether you want to harness your professional skills to help others or just want to help local children in need, there are several ways to give back close to home. And these nonprofits are open to corporate partnerships, so if you want to organize a group of co-workers or friends, contact them and see where their greatest need lies. Regardless of where you choose to volunteer, giving back in any way helps keep our city strong. And, let’s face it, it makes you feel really great too.



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