Feature Photo: ewilman / Photo above: BrentOzar
Because of its location as a gateway city, Miami offers unique opportunities to advocate for refugees, assist new immigrants, and help in efforts to continue getting supplies and personnel into Haiti.

It’s also home to 460,000 acres of national park land, and a multitude of beaches that get much less attention than South Beach and are badly in need of cleanups. If you are in town, consider taking a break from the sun and surf to contribute some time and explore aspects of the city that rarely get notice.

Refugees and Migrant Workers

International Rescue Committee

The International Rescue Committee first established its presence in Miami to help Cubans relocating to the city in the 1960s, but today serves the thousands of refugees primarily from South America, Central America, and the Caribbean who reach Miami’s shores each year.

Volunteers assist them in finding homes, employment, and rehabilitation for those escaping extreme violence and oppression. Long term volunteers have the opportunity to become mentors. Email VolunteerMiami@theIRC.org

WeCount! Community Workers Center

Located in Homestead, an agricultural area of Miami where many Central American, Mayan, and Haitian migrant workers live and work, this center seeks to provide a safe space for day laborers to find employment as a dignified alternative to standing in the street.

Volunteers are needed to teach English and computer skills classes. You can call the center at 305-278-7740 or email Albert Rodriguez at ralbert@we-count.org

Haiti Disaster Relief

Konbit for Haiti

Home to the largest Haitian American community in the United States, and serving as the nearest port, opportunities abound to assist in earthquake relief efforts for Haiti from South Florida.

Volunteers are urgently needed to package and ship donations, coordinate healthcare professional deployments, provide grief counseling, assist with Temporary Protected Status applications, and provide administrative support to organizations working from Miami.

Stop by Konbit for Haiti, a storefront turned community center in the heart of the Little Haiti, which is serving as an information hub for volunteers. They are located at 521 NE 81st Street.

Environmental Issues

Miami Group of the Sierra Club

Rapid expansion and development are constant threats to Miami’s ecosystem of beaches, swamps, and forests, and to its many endangered species like manatees and sea turtles.

Sierra Club volunteers can participate in everything from beach cleanups to writing news items to leading groups of inner city kids on nature outings. A list of email contacts for different areas of volunteering is available on their website.

Hunger and Homelessness

Camillus House

Photo: Billa

Camillus House has had a presence in Miami for over 50 years as one of its largest homeless shelters, even as the community surrounding it has increasingly gentrified and pushed for its relocation, which will finally happen in 2011.

Started as a small endeavor by some Irish priests, the towering building on the outskirts of Miami’s Overtown district offers housing, food, and health services for the homeless. Short term volunteers can assist in food distribution at the daily soup kitchens, while long term volunteers can get more involved with its various programs.

Instructions for volunteering can be found here.

For those with limited time, a great resource for volunteer opportunities on a day to day basis is Hands On Miami. There are also community volunteer events throughout the year such as MLK Day of Service in January, Biscayne Bay Cleanup in April, Coastal Cleanup in September, and Hands on Miami Day in November.

Community Connection:

If you’re headed to Miami for a visit, be sure to read Jared Romey’s Budget Guide to South Beach.