Giving the Gift of Giving

BTL Local Volunteering Guide

With fewer than two months left until the winter holidays, gift-giving, and subsequently gift-shopping, season is in full swing. However, as magical as it can be to find the perfect gift for a loved one or to receive a longtime wishlist item, sometimes the holidays run the risk of transforming into a purely material exchange. That's why, for those interested in giving the gift of their time this year, BTL has compiled a list of four nonprofit organizations across Southeast Michigan who need holiday volunteering help and who provide multiple ways to contribute.

Affirmations is an LGBTQ community center in Ferndale that has been a part of Southeast Michigan for 30 years. Beyond serving as a social hub for LGBTQ people, the center joins people together from all parts of the LGBTQ community with everything from social advocacy clubs and groups to fully fledged internships. Kyle Taylor is the center's development and community relations manager and deals directly with all new volunteers. He said that Affirmations is always looking for help and that applicants have the ability to be flexible with what they choose to do.
"They would have to fill out a form online at, and then we run a background check on them," Taylor said. "Then we let them know when that's all good through an email and then they attend a training and they can do whatever they'd like to do. But the front desk is presented taking shifts in that aspect of the training and the drop-in center is presented as well."
Taylor said that the next big event for which volunteers should gear up is the Teen Lock-In at the center happening on Saturday, Dec. 14. Because training is required for all volunteers, potential participants would have to attend the next available training on Tuesday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m. Taylor said that volunteers interested in helping out even beyond the holiday season should look into becoming an elite volunteer.
"That's opening and closing the building, setting the alarm, making sure everyone's in and out — all that kind of stuff," he said. "And then we have a separate training that Ian [Unger, youth and education manager] runs but you also have to go through the volunteer training to be included in this. And it would be a group facilitator training — that's if they want to start a group here."
Volunteers are also welcome to join the Affirmations Advocacy Committee or the Entertainment Committee. Both provide valuable services that are tailored to either community engagement or entertainment. For those who aren't able to spare their time this year, Affirmations is also developing a holiday wish list to be released the week before Thanksgiving.

290 W Nine Mile Road, Ferndale.

Ruth Ellis Center
Whether it's hosting a holiday party, holding a warm clothing drive, gathering canned goods or simply decorating to bring some holiday cheer, The Ruth Ellis Center is always looking for help. A nonprofit dedicated to aiding homeless and at-risk LGBTQ youth in the city of Detroit, REC is dedicated to making the holiday season of each one of its kids as good as possible. I'Sha R. Schultz-Spradlin is a development associate at REC. She said that those interested in volunteering should start by contacting her directly and online is one of the easiest ways to do this.
"If they go on our website and look at ways to get involved, click 'get involved' and then 'volunteer' and my contact information would be underneath that," she said. "And there will be a whole bunch of information for you."
Applicants will get information about the vetting process, how to sign up for different events and creative ways to offer their services. When asked what she feels new helpers should know before they begin their work, Schultz-Spradlin said that being mindful of the community being served is always helpful.
"Whether it's something you're donating or whether you're doing a project here, I always say, 'How would you want this project done?' Or, 'What kind of items would you want donated?' Keep that in mind, because our people experiencing homelessness don't want jeans with holes in them," she said. "So, just being mindful that the stuff that we're donating is not just junk stuff, but it's stuff that can actually be used. Because especially when it comes to clothing, and especially around these winter months, our clothing closet is super important for our young people."
Schultz-Spradlin added that volunteers will be able to sign up for REC's unique volunteer portal by visiting the online site. This allows for some customization in the preferences of volunteers.
"And from there I'll post different volunteer projects, whether it's hosting a meal, doing drop-in in the drop-in center in the kitchen or if it's, 'Hey, we need some help moving into the new building,'" she said. "I'll post onto our portal and if you're registered to our portal you'll get notifications based on what your interests are."

Ruth Ellis Center
77 Victor St., Highland Park

Ozone House
Based in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, Ozone House is also a nonprofit that is dedicated to helping homeless, runaway and at-risk youth. Their services can help those who need emergency and transitional housing, counseling and case management, and LGBTQ-specific services. Marketing and Communications Manager Heidi Ruud said that "donations are the fuel for all of these programs," citing that while 75 percent of Ozone House's budget is from federal, state and local grants and foundations, monetary and in-kind donations support every one of Ozone House's programs.
"In our housing programs, your in-kind donations provide things like a welcome basket when young people arrive, unsure of their futures. Clothing when young people come to us with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Bags for transporting belongings from place to place. A warm blanket to take home. A piece of inspirational art they made that they can take with them to inspire them in times of uncertainty. Games to be used in tactical or experiential therapy and so much more," Ruud said.
When asked how volunteers could get involved in helping Ozone House regularly, Ruud suggested using this online link to get started:
"Because we work with minors in crisis in our homes, we offer regular volunteer opportunities through The Education Project, which is a program we run out of the WISD off of Wagner Road. … With our new home opening in January/February we hope to offer new volunteer opportunities," she said. "We will also have a few volunteer opportunities at our Home Sweet Home event on Feb. 13. This is an event we host each year specifically to raise awareness and funds around LGBTQ services that we provide since 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. To be notified of volunteer opportunities, sign up for our Volunteer Newsletter here:"

Ozone House Ann Arbor
1705 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor

Ozone House Ypsilanti
102 N Hamilton St., Ypsilanti

LGBT Detroit
LGBT Detroit has been serving Detroit's LGBTQ community for decades, but it has been at its #SafeBraveSpace in the Murray Hill neighborhood since 2016. Offering services that increase "awareness of the intricacies of the LGBT culture through education, cohesion and advocacy," LGBT Detroit is always hosting or planning community-involved events and looking for volunteer help. Perhaps most notably, it puts on Hotter Than July, the world's second-oldest Black Pride celebration. Evan Killingsworth is project coordinator at the center. He said that anyone who may be hesitant to volunteer should know that their efforts benefit the entire community.
"You are not just supporting the LGBTQ+ community, you are supporting Detroit and all the businesses that partner with us," he said. "… Volunteering is a great way to find new people, test out different careers and make a positive impact in the world. Be ready for different experiences and wonderful people."
To begin helping the organization, Killingsworth suggests visiting the LGBT Detroit website and clicking the "get involved" tab. There, users will find not only a list of some of the organization's groups — like Brother to Brother, Woman 2 Woman and its healing and support services — but a volunteer application. Those interested in donating to LGBT Detroit should visit

LGBT Detroit
20025 Greenfield Road, Detroit