Left to right, Brian Taylor and "Lil Mo," Rick Honaker and "Gwen," and Mike Funes and "Reds" are out for a late morning walk. Taylor, Honaker and Funes are volunteers at the Animal Welfare Society of Howard County.

Left to right, Brian Taylor and "Lil Mo," Rick Honaker and "Gwen," and Mike Funes and "Reds" are out for a late morning walk. Taylor, Honaker and Funes are volunteers at the Animal Welfare Society of Howard County. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun / March 8, 2011)

There’s a lot to gain by giving in Howard County.

Each year, residents from across the county volunteer their time, doing everything from helping young readers pick out library books and driving seniors to doctors appointments to stocking shelves at the food bank and caring for rescued horses.

“There’s great interest in volunteering in our community,” says Michael-Anne “Mickey” Gomez, executive director of The Volunteer Center Serving Howard County, a Columbia Association program that connects volunteers with more than 200 local nonprofit and government agencies.

Many residents who contact the Volunteer Center or use its website (volunteerhoward.org) to search for opportunities do so because they want to give something back to their home community, Gomez says. But often, volunteers are surprised at how just how much they gain throughout the volunteer experience.

“They gain a much better understanding of our community,” Gomez says. “They can meet new people, they can learn new skills, and they can really feel more connected.”

Volunteering is both “an investment in your community and an investment in yourself,” she says.

If you’re ready to invest, here are 10 easy ways to give back in Howard County.

1 Donate Food

The Community Action Council (CAC) of Howard County, which provides services and programs to low-income residents, needs food for its food bank. According to Maryland Hunger Solutions, more than 20,300 people are “food insecure” every day in Howard County, meaning they are at risk of hunger and lack consistent access to adequate food. Volunteers can drop off nonperishable items at the food bank’s headquarters. Or they can hold their own food drives in their communities or workplaces. The food bank also supplies food to several partner pantries throughout Howard County.

Where: Howard County Food Bank, 8920 Route 108, Suite A, Columbia
When: Donations accepted Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Contact: Ashley Groves, 410-313-6440, cac-hc.org

2 Help Cancer Patients

The Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults, which provides support, education and resources for young adults affected by cancer, needs volunteers for its “Helping Others Fight” program. Individuals and groups help local cancer patients and their families with yard work, housecleaning, home repairs, pet care, meal assistance and transportation to treatment. Volunteers must complete an application and agree to a background check.

Where: Locations throughout Howard County, as well as Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.
When: Time varies. Projects typically occur at least twice a month.
Contact: Laura Scruggs, 410-964-0202, laura@ulmanfund.org, ulmanfund.org

3 Lead a Workout

The Athelas Institute, a community center that provides vocational, educational, residential and recreational programs for adults with intellectual disabilities, needs volunteers to lead exercise and nutrition classes in its new Wellness Center. Volunteers should have a fitness and health background and be confident teaching adults with disabilities. Class times are flexible and can range from one-time to ongoing sessions.

Where: Athelas Institute, 9104 Red Branch Road, Columbia
When: Monday through Friday during the day. Evening slots are also available.

Contact: Pat Owens, 410-964-1241, athelasinstitute.org

4 Walk a Dog

The Animal Welfare Society of Howard County, a nonprofit agency serving people and animals of Howard County, needs volunteers to escort dogs to outside areas and back to their kennels on Friday and Saturday evenings. Volunteers will also clean and prepare kennels. Experience with dogs is required, as are compassion and dependability.

Where: Animal Welfare Society of Howard County, 8556 Davis Road, Columbia
When: Fridays and Saturdays from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Contact: Stephanie Edner at 410-465-4350, awshc.org