Travel

Here’s How to Volunteer in Phoenix Right Now

These are the best ways to make a difference locally this year.

Valley of the Sun United Way
Valley of the Sun United Way
Valley of the Sun United Way

While giving back to the community is important all year-round, the holidays can be an especially difficult time for those experiencing hardship, making it an impactful time to put your good will to good use by volunteering with a local nonprofit. Thankfully, the Phoenix area has several incredible organizations working to make the Valley a better place, offering a variety of different opportunities to help others-from mentoring LGBTQ+ youth to walking homeless pups or providing food to families in need, there’s something we all can do to improve the lives of the people around us. Here are a few ways to get started.

St. Mary's Food Bank
St. Mary’s Food Bank
St. Mary’s Food Bank

Help stop hunger in the Valley with St. Mary’s Food Bank

Phoenix
St. Mary’s Food Bank has been providing food to those in need for 55 years and has become a staple in the Arizona community. Today, they’re making a substantial difference for anyone experiencing hunger by distributing 300,000 meals per day, six days a week. Multiple volunteer shifts are available each day either distributing food to clients or packing the food boxes. Plus, it’s easy to sign up on their website.

Homeward Bound
Homeward Bound
Homeward Bound

Help families overcome homelessness with Homeward Bound

Phoenix
Homeward Bound offers case management, financial coaching, and employment help to prepare families to transition into stable housing, and they’re always in need of volunteers to help organize pantries, mentor youth, assist with fundraising events, and more.

Valley of the Sun United Way
Valley of the Sun United Way
Valley of the Sun United Way

Make the Valley a better place with Valley of the Sun United Way

Phoenix
If you want to make a difference in as many ways as possible, volunteering through the Valley of the Sun United Way is a great start. Through their website, you can find opportunities with a variety of different organizations doing several different things-from book sorting for Southwest Human Development to making affirmation cards for Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona. They even have at-home opportunities so you can make a difference from the comfort of your living room.

one n ten
one n ten
one n ten

Support LGBTQ+ youth with one•n•ten

Downtown Phoenix
one•n•ten is an organization dedicated to serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth with safe spaces, health and wellness services, and more. This year you can help by purchasing gifts for the organization’s annual Queermas Holiday Gift Program, or become a volunteer by attending the upcoming volunteer information session on January 18.

Arizona Humane Society
Arizona Humane Society
Arizona Humane Society

Care for homeless pets through the Arizona Humane Society

Phoenix
The Arizona Humane Society has been voted one of the top volunteer organizations in the Valley-and for good reason, you can make a positive difference while playing with animals, and really, what could be better than that? Whether you want to walk a dog or socialize kittens, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved.

Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC)
Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC)
Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC)

Make dinner for families staying at the Ronald McDonald House

Several locations
The Ronald McDonald House offers a warm, comfortable place for families who need to be near their hospitalized child. The organization has three Valley locations where volunteers can assist in a variety of activities to help make the houses feel like home, but our favourite way to volunteer is to gather a group of friends and make dinner for the families.

Hunkapi Programs, Inc
Hunkapi Programs, Inc
Hunkapi Programs, Inc

Care for therapy animals at Hunkapi Programs

Scottsdale
Hunkapi is a one-of-a-kind organization that uses equine therapy to help people of all backgrounds and abilities heal and experience positive growth in their lives. Volunteers have the opportunity to work hands on with the horses and other animals at the farm, making it one of the most fun and unique ways to volunteer. To get started, fill out an application on the website and attend an orientation.

New Pathways for Youth
New Pathways for Youth
New Pathways for Youth

Make a one-on-one impact by mentoring a young adult through New Pathways for Youth

Downtown Phoenix
Help change a young adult’s life by becoming a New Pathways for Youth mentor. The organization works with more than 300 youth ages 13 to 21-years-old who have had adverse childhood experiences to create a positive change in their lives with case management, workshops, resources, and individually tailored action plans.

St. Vincent de Paul
St. Vincent de Paul
St. Vincent de Paul

Serves meals to those in need at St. Vincent de Paul

Several Locations
St. Vincent de Paul offers a variety of services for community members-serving 4,600 meals daily, helping thousands each year avoid eviction, and assisting patients with much-needed medical and dental care. The organization has a variety of different volunteer opportunities from serving meals to families in need, gardening in the urban farms, and sorting food-to name a few. Plus, it’s easy to get started by signing up online.

Mentor a child through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arizona

Phoenix
Be a positive influence in the life of a child by becoming a ‘Big’ or a mentor to a little brother or-helping them to gain confidence, attain educational success and avoid risky behaviors. The best part is-you can do activities with your ‘Little’ that you already love doing, like playing sports or riding bikes.

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Jamie Killin is a Phoenix native and Arizona State graduate who specializes in lifestyle and features writing. You can usually find her at the spin studio, a concert, or trying new restaurants across the Valley. Follow her at @jamiefayekillin.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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