Giving and getting back

Published 5:18 pm Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fred VanZaligen and his wife, Debra, volunteer with Special

Equestrians by filling food buckets and scattering hay each week for the program’s lifeblood — horses.

“I think it’s great when you are retired to do something and especially in our case to help kids with disabilities,” Fred said. “This program depends so much on volunteers.”

Special Equestrians Volunteer Coordinator Jaime Baird said her organization calls on more than 200 volunteers each year.

“All of our horse feeders and side walkers are volunteers,”

Baird said. “We only have three staff members.We couldn’t have this program without our volunteers.”

Cindy Hawkins, director of the Kids First Awareness Center in Alabaster, agrees that volunteers are vital in any non–profit organization.

“These kids need to see that somebody cares and is willing to give their time to help them,” Hawkins said.

Shelby County boasts a variety of organizations that need help year-round, but aren’t always looking for even a full day of your time.

Hawkins’ program helps children in the community with homework, physical fitness and self-esteem. She said she asks that volunteers provide just one or two hours of their time either one day a week or even just one day a month.

“We don’t want people to get burned out,” Hawkins said.

Programs won’t turn away volunteers who want to offer more of their time though.

The VanZalingens began visiting the stable five years ago and have committed every Thursday since then to the program.

“This is a way of keeping us active and helping the kids, and the horses too,” Debra said. “To watch these kids improve with their balance and their self esteem… it makes it all worth it.”

The volunteers feed the horses, clean out the stables and help guide the animals as children ride them. Each Saturday class requires about 20 volunteers.

One volunteer leads the horse while two others walk alongside the horse. Some newer riders also require a fourth volunteer.

“Volunteers don’t have to have any experience necessarily but just a love for the horses and the kids,” Baird said.

Most not-for-profit organizations will tell you that compassion, not experience, is the key to making a difference. No matter what your interest, there are opportunities out there.


The AWR enlists a statewide network of volunteers who help care for close to 3,000 wildlife patients each year. Volunteers assist in three shifts per day, seven days a week. They help care for the animals, answer Hotline calls, give tours, and provide building maintenance. For more information, visit


Providing free dental and vision checks, as well as health education to the Birmingham area can be quite a task. That’s why the clinic asks for help from the community. The organization is always looking for volunteer dentists, dental hygienists, optometrists, ophthalmologists, Spanish students, and others. The program hosts 15 dental clinics a year with an average of 10 patients per clinic. For more information, visit


Court Appointed Special Advocates act as support for children in the court system. Volunteers attend court procedures with children to offer support. For more information, visit


Community of Hope opened in October to provide free health care to individuals 18–64 without insurance in Shelby County. The clinic runs strictly off volunteers each Thursday night from 5:30–8 p.m. at the Shelby County Health

Department. Volunteers are needed to take medical information, greet patients, assist clinic pastors and collect donations. For more information, e–mail John Ramano at or call Tim Wolfe at 715-5464.


This home away from home for many kids in Alabaster seeks volunteers willing to give one hour a week. The program needs tutors and homework helpers, as well as mentors for kids and help with physical education. For more information, call 706-9467.


M4A focuses on improving the lives of older community members. Volunteers are needed to provide light housekeeping and home repairs, make phone calls or write letters to senior pen pals, visit nursing homes and assisted living facilities and work as drivers for the Meals on Wheels program with local senior centers. For more information, call 670-5770.


With faith at the root of everything it does, Oak Mountain Missions relies on donations and volunteers to get necessities such as food, clothing, books, toys and furniture to those in need. The mission needs volunteer drivers, warehouse workers and donors. For more information, 987–6268 or visit, www.oakmountainmissions. org.


Owen’s House, an organization that works with abused and neglected children, needs volunteers to help with a variety of efforts. A large number of volunteers are needed each spring to assist with the Blue Ribbon Ride in April. Volunteers put together prevention packets for schools and blue ribbons for the community. For more information, call 669-3333.


There are many ways volunteers can help SafeHouse, a place that provides a safe haven for women and children in dangerous situations. You can operate the 24–hour crisis line, help write thank you cards, file paperwork, help with event planning, provide childcare and therapeutic daycare, as well as transportation for families. For more information, visit


When families find themselves in financial trouble or the victims of a natural disaster, SEA is one of many places they can turn. This organization operates out of Montevallo to provide families in need with food, personal hygiene and paper items. This organization gets particularly busy around the holiday season. For more information, call 665-1942.


Animal lovers are asked to commit to a minimum of 20 hours for inshelter work or 12 hours for off-site. Offsite options include the Highway 280 PetSmart on Saturdays from 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. or 1:30-5 p.m. or the Alabaster PetSmart for cat care seven days a week, during store hours. The shelter has an immediate need for cleaning in the kennel area six days a week from 8-11 a.m. For more information, visit


This organization hopes to provide therapeutic horseback riding for individuals with physical, mental, developmental and emotional disabilities. Volunteers can serve as side-walkers or horse-handlers, and can help feed and care for the horses. Special Equestrians next volunteer training class begins Thursday, Feb. 5. For more information, visit


This youth ranch is a ministry founded to provide healing to children in distress by pairing them with rescued horses of similar backgrounds. The organization’s goal is to demonstrate God’s love through mutual healing between the child and horse. Volunteers provide upkeep of facilities or work directly with the children and horses. They must complete a training session and provide information for a background check. For more information, visit