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Outdoor volunteer opportunities for kids on Long Island: Walking dogs, gardening, more

Newsday got an inside look on Aug. 3,

Newsday got an inside look on Aug. 3, 2018, into the volunteer opportunites for youth provided by the Southhold Animal Shelter.   Credit: Randee Daddona

From walking dogs, pulling weeds and maintaining trails to joining beach cleanups, teaching fishing and helping the elderly or disabled, there’s no shortage of volunteer opportunities for kids in grade school and high school on Long Island. Here’s a listing of some to consider — all of which will come in handy for those required community service hours in high school, college applications and resumes. Since it's still summertime, most of these opportunities can be tackled outdoors.


“Working with animals teaches compassion, discipline and responsible pet ownership,” says Gillian Pultz, executive director of the North Fork Animal Welfare League, which has animal shelters in Peconic and Calverton. “We love walking the dogs,” adds volunteer Bryce Keels, 11, of Southold, who volunteers with sister Caelyn, 9. “Especially since our grandma comes along.”

RESPONSIBILITIES Walk and interact with sheltered dogs and provide them with comfort and friendship. Training provided. Volunteers also help with facility cleaning and maintenance.

REQUIREMENTS No minimum age if accompanied by an adult; minimum age without an adult is 16.

INFO Southold Animal Shelter is at 269 Peconic Lane, Peconic, and the Riverhead Animal Shelter is located at 532 Youngs Ave., Calverton; to volunteer, call Gillian Pultz at 631-765-1811;


At Old Westbury's nonprofit Horseability, the mission is to improve the lives of children and adults with special needs through interaction with horses, says Alicia Levy, director of volunteers. "Volunteering provides a rewarding experience by serving the special needs community while being involved with horses,” she says.

RESPONSIBILITIES Volunteers work with horses and riders, help with barn maintenance or attend special events on the 20-acre farm. Training provided.

REQUIREMENTS Minimum age is 14.

INFO 223 Store Hill Rd., Old Westbury; to volunteer, contact Alicia Levy at 516-333-6151 or write to;


“It’s not just the community service hours that you get out of volunteering," says Rachael Dunning, 16, of Kings Park, who gives her time at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown. “I met my best friend here, and I see so many animals I would never get close to. Today someone brought in a blue heron that had been bitten by a fox. We’ll help it with rehabilitation.”

RESPONSIBILITIES Volunteer positions include animal care, special events, gardening, teaching and butterfly house reception. Training provided.

REQUIREMENTS Minimum age is 16; must be 18 or older to work with animals.

INFO 62 Eckernkamp Dr., Smithtown; to volunteer, contact Eric Young at 631-979-6344, ext. 302 or eyswbriarnc@aol.com


“I feel like I’m serving my community in a way that’s unselfish,” says nonprofit North Shore Land Alliance volunteer Nicholas Chatel, 17 of Bayville. “I’m passionate about protecting our natural areas, and I really enjoy working outdoors. I feel like I’m really making a difference.”

ACTIVITY: Gardening, trail maintenance and event assistance.

RESPONSIBILITIES Volunteers help maintain more than 600 acres of parkland across Nassau and western Suffolk counties. Opportunities range from removing invasive plants to restoring trails and other maintenance-oriented activities. Watering new planting areas and providing a weekend presence in John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden in Mill Neck are immediate needs.

REQUIREMENTS High school and college students.

INFO Numerous locations across Nassau and Western Suffolk counties; to volunteer, contact Jane Jackson at 516-922-1028 or jjackson@northshorelandalliance.org


Lighthouse upkeep and restoration costs a lot of money and often depends on the help of volunteer fundraisers. The Huntington Lighthouse Music Fest on Saturday, Sept. 1, is a yearly fundraiser and the only music festival in the world held on top of a working lighthouse in the middle of the water. Youth volunteers are always welcome to sell lighthouse memorabilia and collect donations. “I’ve volunteered to raise funds at the Music Fest for several years,” says 17-year-old Hallie Simkins of Centerport. She’s a member of Teens on the Water, a program run by the Huntington Lighthouse Preservation Society that helps boating kids gain community service credits while working at the Music Fest. “I get to meet some very generous, fun-loving boaters — and I get to eat lunch at the lighthouse while listening to great music and spending time with friends.”

RESPONSIBILITIES During the Music Fest concert, volunteers with permission to use their family’s inflatable boat dress up as pirates and sell T-shirts and pirate paraphernalia to raise money. To do this, they cruise from boat to boat in the mooring field around the lighthouse.

REQUIREMENTS Minimum age is 13. Bring a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life vest. Parental permission and valid Boating Safety Certification required.

INFO Goldstar Battalion Beach, Browns Road, Huntington; to volunteer, contact Allison Simkins, coordinator at Teens on the Water, at 631-721-5803 or;


Long Island’s Special Olympics serves more than 7,100 child and adult athletes with disabilities. The organization depends on volunteers to coach the athletes, set up the events and provide advice, support and friendship to all involved. Volunteers are needed to help athletes train throughout the year. "Volunteers provide an authenticity to the sports so athletes feel they are being coached and treated just like anybody else,” says Ellen Schuster of Medford, whose son Matthew, 35, competes in the Special Olympics for swimming, softball, basketball, golf and boccie.  “They provide a special camaraderie and a sense that participants are truly part of a team.”

RESPONSIBILITIES Help athletes train or participate in a variety of sporting events, including soccer, softball, golf and boccie.

REQUIREMENTS Minimum age 15; younger OK if accompanied by parent.

INFO The Special Olympics' Long Island headquarters is in Melville, but volunteers meet at locations across Nassau and Suffolk counties based on their assigned activity. To volunteer, contact Diane Colonna at 631-458-4167,


The Coastal Steward is dedicated to restoring and preserving Long Island’s coastline through education, raising public awareness, and community action. The nonprofit can always use youth and adult volunteers — especially with its oyster restoration program. "You’ll get wet and a little dirty working with our oysters, but that’s the fun of it,” says Denis Mellett, president. “If you like this, you might also enjoy our beach cleanups.”

RESPONSIBILITIES Sorting, cleaning, sizing and monitoring growth of oysters every other weekend throughout the season at a Mt. Sinai beach.

REQUIREMENTS Ages 12 and older; adult supervision required for younger than 14

INFO Town of Brookhaven Shellfish Hatchery, Harbor Beach Road, Cedar Beach, Mt. Sinai. Program is tide-dependent, so check website or call for dates and start times. Reservations required. To volunteer, call Denis Mellett at 631-941-6528;


“What could be better than helping people learn to fish?” asks Heidi O'Riordan, an aquatic biologist with the New York State Department of Conservation. If you need to meet high school volunteer requirements, are working toward a merit badge or love fishing and just want to help out, you’ll fit right in at the Hempstead Lake Fall Family Fishing Festival on Oct. 20.

RESPONSIBILITIES Work with DEC staff to help demonstrate trout fishing techniques, rigging and baiting-up at the Hempstead Lake Fall Family Fishing Festival or other DEC fishing clinics. Help anglers catch more fish — or maybe their first one.

REQUIREMENTS Ages 10 and older; some programs require adult supervision

INFO Hempstead Lake State Park, Eagle Ave, West Hempstead. Other clinics throughout the year are also in need of volunteers. Call Heidi O'Riordan at 631-444-0280 to volunteer.


The Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery is a nonprofit educational center dedicated to educating visitors about the freshwater ecosystems of New York. It hosts the largest living collection of New York State freshwater reptiles, fishes and amphibians, and has two aquarium buildings and a trout hatchery. There’s also a catch-and-keep trout fishing program here. "I love volunteering at the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery,” says George Gurney, 15, of Oyster Bay. "It helps my skills for dealing with people, and I’ve learned plenty about the fish and amphibians there. I enjoy sharing that information with those who visit, and helping with trout fishing, too."

RESPONSIBILITIES Place bait on hooks, properly remove fish from hooks, provide minimal instruction on how to use equipment, perform light aquarium tank maintenance and feed fish as needed.

REQUIREMENTS High school students only.

INFO 1660 NY-25A, Cold Spring Harbor; to volunteer, contact Jason Sikorski at 516-692-6768 or;

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