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Destin-Nation USA: Voluntouring America (PHOTOS)

Voluntouriam Usa

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 08/17/11 07:18 PM ET Updated: 10/21/11 06:12 AM ET

America is blessed with such an incredible diversity of cities that travelers sometimes fall into the trap of taking towns at face value – seeing only the museums and sites along the most well-worn tourist trails. Aside from offering a chance to give back, voluntourism presents service-minded travelers with an opportunity to really get to know a town, to move past talking about the weather and have an earnest heart to heart.

Thanks to the economic crisis, many communities across America are struggling. Thanks to the founding fathers, many people are in a position to help.

Helping, it should be noted, doesn't require sacrificing the fun of travel. To the contrary, a traveler busy getting his hands dirty is a traveler without a hand free to check his Blackberry. Volunteering also offers the opportunity to meet new people from all walks of life. What is endlessly astounding about the U.S. is not its scope, but the diversity of the people that live between the shining seas.

There are countless worthy causes in every city in America, so what follows should only be considered suggestions oriented towards visitors to some of the country's more major cities.

Photo: stephenyeargin/Flickr

Washington, D.C.
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Washington is a city in constant transition, with people flying into and out of town on the drifting winds of the government. But, outside of the Georgetown scene and the suburbs, more than 17.6% of the 600,000 people who call the District home live below the poverty line. (That's compared to 14.3% nationally in 2009.)

After taking in the monuments and museums (most of which are free), check out some ways to give back to the people of our capital.

Miriam's Kitchen was founded in 1983, and named for the biblical figure - Moses' sister, who was forced to live as an outsider because of a sin she committed. The charity, which reaches out to the District's impoverished through programs like meal service, art classes, and a working café, aims to integrate those who are isolated like Miriam. There are many ways to volunteer, but the easiest for travelers will be to pull a shift serving or prepping meals.

So Others Might Eat (SOME) is another homeless outreach in D.C., founded in 1970 by an interfaith group of priests, ministers and lay people. Its programs include meal service, substance abuse programs, homebound elderly outreach, a medical clinic plus affordable housing and job training programs. Check out opportunities specifically geared for kids.

For a more comprehensive list of volunteer opportunities, visit One Brick. The D.C. branch of this national service organization is a hub for a broad spectrum of one-day projects.

Photo: thisisbossi/Flickr
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