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New Year's Resolution #1: Lend a Hand

The gifts are unwrapped, the champagne bottle is in the recycling bin, and it's time again to think about turning over a new leaf, making changes in ourselves and our communities. While Sept. 11 saw an outpouring of public interest in donating and volunteering, there are still plenty of organizations that need your time and talents. From daylong arts projects to programs through which you can form relationships that last years, there are programs to suit just about everyone. Whether you are assisting as a class reader at the Braille Institute, leading a theatre workshop for at-risk youth, or even just taking a new young friend to the theatre for the first time, volunteering is a great way to meet new people and share your gifts and passions with others.

The following is a list of organizations to contact if you are interested in volunteering. While many of these projects are related to theatre, this year Back Stage West decided to include a more diverse listing of organizations that could use a hand. Programs vary in terms of the time commitment and skill level that they require of volunteers. Some are even paid part-time positions. All are worthwhile ways to spend a bit of your time—and great things to have on your resumé, as well. For those interested in simply starting out on a one-day project, visit Another helpful website is Volunteer Match can help match you with a particular community project in your area of interest. You can also search its website by zip code to find projects that are nearby.

AIDS Project Los Angeles

This organization offers 30 free services for 6,000 men, women, and children living with HIV/AIDS, and works to reduce the instance of HIV infection through extensive education and risk-reduction programs, in addition to advocating for fair and effective legislation on the local, state, and federal levels. Volunteers are needed for all programs. Call to schedule a new volunteer orientation. (213) 201-1377,

Arts & Services for the Disabled

A school for developmentally disabled adults and children, this nonprofit teaches workshops in improvisational theatre, drama, and puppetry as a means to improve student confidence, communication, and artistic skills. Branches are located throughout the L.A., Long Beach, and Orange County areas. Emphasis is on creating a loving, receptive environment where creative expression is encouraged. To volunteer, contact program administrator Helen Dolas at 3962 Studebaker Road, Ste. 206, Long Beach, CA 90808. (562) 982-0249.

Aviva Center

This organization provides residential treatment and special educational services to 36 adolescent girls, most of whom have experienced a history of sexual, physical, and/or emotional abuse. Volunteer opportunities exist in a variety of special programs designed to promote positive role models. Volunteers with special skills in the arts are needed to lead six-week activity classes. For those with busy schedules who still want to get involved, there are also volunteer opportunities organizing and funding outings and events for the girls throughout the year. Aviva's Residential Centers are located in residential Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley. (323) 876-0550,

By Any Means Necessary

The BAMN-BAMN Youth Ensemble is a professional theatrical ensemble for kids, ages 8-21. Volunteers work with youth doing theatre workshops, but occasionally they do outreach with senior citizens. Volunteers may also work on sets and costumes, or emcee events. An audition/interview is required involving a prepared monologue and some cold reading. Time commitment is flexible. 3616 Cardiff Ave., Ste. 201, L.A., CA 90034-4086. (310) 836-0997.

Big Brothers of Greater Los Angeles

Big Brothers provides role models to fatherless boys (ages 6-12 at intake) who live in L.A. County. The Core Program matches one boy with one man, who becomes his friend and mentor. There are also a number of short-term group mentor programs including sports mentoring and workplace mentoring. Men over the age of l8 are encouraged to call to make a difference in a boy's life and in their own. 1486 Colorado Blvd. Los Angeles CA 90041 (323) 258-3333,

Braille Institute

The mission of the Braille Institute is to help blind people achieve independence, and this is made possible by the involvement of dedicated volunteers. Volunteer jobs include teaching classes, classroom assistants, readers, Braille transcribers, clerical, and data entry. Hours of operation are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday. Volunteers work a minimum of two hours per week and must be at least 16. Training is provided and no previous experience working with the blind is required. (323) 663-1111.

Children of the Night

Based in Van Nuys this program rescues runaway teenagers from prostitution and pornography, offering shelter, a 24-hour national toll-free hotline, and a street outreach program. The program also provides GED preparation, a drug placement program, court accompaniment, medical services, and an independent-living program. Children of the Night needs volunteers to organize presentations at the shelter home in arts & crafts, acting, tutoring, public speaking, clerical work, and thrift shop help. (818) 908-4474.

Children's Bureau of Southern California

This child abuse prevention and treatment agency serves Los Angeles and Orange counties. Volunteers are needed at the Los Angeles site for children's groups, childcare, clerical support, and the mentors program. Huntington Beach seeks classroom and after-school volunteers; bilingual in Spanish is a plus. If you have a special talent or skill, your ideas are welcome. (323) 953-7350.

El Nido Family Centers

With centers in Pacoima, Los Angeles, and Santa Monica, El Nido provides counseling, case management, and parent education to youth and families affected by abuse, teen pregnancy, and those experiencing problems at school or in the community. Volunteer opportunities are available in the areas of tutoring, arts & crafts, drama, field trip activities, and special events. People with special skills are encouraged to develop a program. (818) 896-7776; (323) 757-0101.

Exceptional Children's Foundation

This program serves children (up to age 3) and adults (ages l8 and older) with mental retardation and other developmental disabilities through the following programs: infant development, fine arts, developmental activity, independent-living skills training, work training, summer camp, lifetime assistance, and health promotion and disability prevention. Volunteers can select the following departments: special events, communications and membership, art center, infant development. (323) 298-8218.

Free Arts for Abused Children

In this organization, performers teach classes in whatever subject they choose. Weekly classes include children and the non-abusive parents. Performers must fill out an application, have two references, and attend an orientation. They are then put in contact with one of 100 facilities, which are foster-care homes, facilities for at-risk children, or facilities within the juvenile hall system. Volunteers may also simply participate in one-day special events throughout the year. Those who need a flexible schedule are asked to pair with someone who has a steadier schedule so that someone is available for the students on a regular basis. Orientations are held on the third Thursday of every month in the office at 6 p.m. For information, contact childrens event coordinator Corey Silverstein at 11965 Venice Blvd., Ste. 402, L.A., CA 90066. (310) 313-4278.

Friends Outside in Los Angeles County

Based in Pasadena, this organization assists children and families of inmates to access basic necessities, counseling, educational opportunities, transportation, and medical services. Volunteers assist through Jail Visitation, in which trained volunteers serve as peer counselors at Men's, Women's, and Juvenile facilities. They also assist in annual fundraising events and special events, including holiday parties for children of inmates, and assist with clerical and telephone help. (626) 795-7609.

Golden Generation Foundation

This organization provides live entertainment for retirement homes and nursing homes on a monthly basis. Volunteers perform pieces of musical theatre or emcee events, then talk with the audience following the performance. Performers design their own performances, which run 30 minutes. Stipends are sometimes available. Scheduling is very flexible. "Try it once and see if you like it," said director Robert May. "This is an opportunity to hone your skills in front of a real live audience, and they can be quite critical, even. Some of them have been watching performances for 70 years." 540 N. Marengo Ave., #3, Pasadena, CA 91101. (626) 796-9467,

Inner City Arts

Dedicated to providing ethnically diverse at-risk students (second- through fifth-graders) with arts experiences, Inner City Arts has a drama program with classes two days a week. Volunteers work alongside drama instructors and serve as models for students. Hours are flexible. There is an interview process/application. All students are from inner-city schools, and 90 percent of the students are from families who live below the poverty level. 720 Kohler St., L.A., CA 90021. (213) 627-9621.

Inside Out Community Arts

Inside Out creates theatre pieces written, performed, and designed by at-risk and under-served Los Angeles youth, ages 11-15, inspired by issues of importance in their lives and the world. All programs culminate with free public performances. Actors guide and direct the kids in the creation and performances of the pieces. Said co-director Jonathan Zeichner, "What it's really about is actors and other artists using their expertise to shine light on somebody else, which is a little different from what most actors are accustomed to." Actors are interviewed and then trained in the program's curriculum and intervention techniques working with youth. Once trained, actors are asked to create a new program exercise and are assigned to a site team working with kids. Actors are paid $50-$75 per three-hour session, which they lead on a weekly basis. Substitutes are available if actors have to miss a class. Actors should have experience in their craft. 3819 Lyceum Ave., L.A., CA 90066. (310) 306-6825.

Los Angeles Regional Foodbank

This organization solicits and receives donations of surplus food products from growers, manufacturers, retailers, etc. and distributes them to charities that provide food to children, seniors, homeless, disabled, single parents and their families, unemployed, battered women, and working poor people. Volunteers sort, clean, and repackage food on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. They also perform duties at food drives and special events and assist the administrative staff with data entry, phones, and clerical work. (323) 234-3030, ext. 144.

Share the Wonder of Reading

If you have one hour a week, you can change a child's life by becoming a reading partner with an elementary school child who needs guidance and friendship. The Wonder of Reading's unique reading program trains volunteers to read one-on-one with children during school hours, renovates school libraries, and supplies the libraries with new books. There are 48 school sites to select from in the Los Angeles area. (310) 289-1201.

Theatre of Hearts/Youth First

Always open to fresh faces, this L.A.-based program offers paid part-time positions to experienced actors, dancers, and singers dedicated to working with at-risk youth. Its mission is to prevent youth-on-youth violence by involving youngsters and their families in arts workshops at community-based sites. Actors must have spent three or more years working on their craft, and they must be able to provide a lesson plan, including a clear, concise idea of what they want to teach and the methods or techniques they will use. The 10- or 11-week sessions involve teaching classes once or twice a week for two to four hours. There is an interview process. The director looks at the applicants' resumés and at how well they interact with children. Fax resumé to executive director Sheila Scott-Wilkerson, (213) 351-9883.

Upward Bound House

This Santa Monica-based project provides transitional housing and intensive case management for homeless families with minor children (Family Place) and will soon begin construction of an affordable housing project with links to services for low-income seniors (Senior Villa). Volunteers are needed weekday evenings at Family Place to teach arts & crafts and various life-skills classes; playground-organized play leaders are needed weekday evenings and weekends. (310) 458-7779. BSW

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