Summertime Outside Volunteering – Two VC Staff Pick Highlights

Highlighting the Homeless Garden Project: Where Everyone is Included — Written by Jeanée Ryan, Monterey Bay RSVP Program Specialist at the Volunteer Center

It wasn’t a chilly Thursday morning, but the falling fog was consistent out on the farm and I felt relaxed and calm. I was happy to be outdoors. Volunteers, interns, and trainees were scattered across the 3.5 acre parcel, wearing rain shells and beanies, and clutching their coffee close. As more people showed up to work, they weaved through the strawberries and green onions, dodging the farm cat Lily, and landed with a smile near the farm stand. It was immediately obvious that this was a place of great connection for some unlikely friendships.

I met Omar, the Volunteer Coordinator, behind the farm stand, already speaking with some friendly faces about the day’s tasks. We also weaved through the peppers and lavender, as he told me about the community that the Homeless Garden Project cultivates. “What I love about Homeless Garden Project is that it moves the community forward in a healthy and restorative way,” he says. Omar is a welcoming presence, with a large smile and calm demeanor. He is incredibly knowledgeable and undeniably passionate about his work here. He crouches down to show me how to harvest strawberries, I harvest my first strawberry ever, excitedly consume it, and we continue the tour.

We visit the kitchen – a mostly outdoor shack with no electricity. Sue Pierce, the volunteer cook on this particular Thursday, explains that everyone gets a hot meal during their shift. Volunteers, staff, trainees, everyone. While discussing the rewards and challenges of feeding 25 people with limited space and supplies (but plenty of food), a volunteer walks up behind us to ask for his lunch. It’s 10:00am, but he’s only half-kidding, exclaiming that the food is delicious, and full of great vegetables and flavor.

I turn around to see I know this volunteer. Julio, recruited initially through RSVP (a program run by the Volunteer Center), started volunteering at the Homeless Garden Project only 3 weeks ago. He started by simply showing up to the farm and planting a few jalapeno peppers from seed. With a Masters in Business Administration, he quickly found his calling helping within the accounting department of the organization. “It has been very good to start here [on the farm]”, Julio smiles. “You see the vibe of the organization and the health it gives to the people. It’s a team.” 

Health, community, and love is at the center of everything the Homeless Garden Project does. Their goals align with healthy foods, healthy lifestyles, and healthy communities. The Homeless Garden Project works to provide “job training, transitional employment and support services to individuals in Santa Cruz who are experiencing homelessness”. To accomplish this, they run an employment training program that teaches skills and provides resources to those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Trainees are connected to resources, as well as the land on the farm, and the people around them. Trainees are supported in finding housing, employment, and in their well-being and recovery. 

Try taking a stroll through the farm one day. Open from sunrise to sunset for the public, you can come wander through, and support the farm by purchasing some produce at the farm stand. “It’s magical,” says Omar, speaking about the connections he sees between various groups of people. Juilo adds that “you feel connected with the soil, nature, and people. As a foreigner, I uprooted my whole life […], I needed a sense of belonging, and I belong here. It helps me a lot.” 

And it’s really for everyone! The sense of community and inclusiveness I got from being there in one morning was enough for me to spread my gratitude to others throughout my day. “The farm has young and old people; it’s diverse,” says Julio, “The people are like what you see here [in the ground]. Diversity is the key point.”

It’s the best outdoor volunteering you could ask for. 

If you are interested in volunteering with the Homeless Garden Project — check out the list of current opportunities on our website HERE

If you are interested in volunteering at the Homeless Garden Project through our RSVP (AmeriCorps Seniors) program — connect with our program HERE

To connect directly with the Homeless Garden Project, call Omar Guzman at (831) 840-0493 or email

Volunteering to Paint Over Graffiti — Written by Rachel Tate, YouthSERVE Program Coordinator at the Volunteer Center

Graffiti paint outs are a great way to spend time with your family while serving your community and are one of the most popular ways to volunteer with a group. By donating a small chunk of your time once a month, we are able to keep the County of Santa Cruz untagged and beautiful. 

On a recent Saturday we had a total of four families show up to help us cover up some vandalism at Rockview Beach. In just 90 minutes we were able to cover up a total of 900 square feet of graffiti. Volunteer Carly Perlman said, “My family and I had a blast and look forward to more opportunities to help our community.” Volunteer Samantha Sayar said, “It was so nice to help by the ocean!” 

Next time you are looking for a family-friendly activity to do, be sure to sign up for a graffiti paint out for your group or join a scheduled graffiti paint out — Express interest here!