When Dr. Trudy Tappan first walked into Nature Scapes, a garden center in Bunnell, Florida, in 2013, she was drawn to the exotic birds in the gazebo under the oak trees in the garden. A bird enthusiast, she noticed that their water was dirty and squirrels were stealing their food. She went to her car to fetch fresh bottles of water and some leftover lunch. Dr. Tappan, a faculty member in Walden’s School of Nursing, has owned birds since she was a child. “I have a great love for birds, which is why I was moved to help,” she explains.

She started visiting the birds every day and soon connected with the owner, Marylou Baiata, and her son, Chris, who asked her to be the new primary caretaker for the birds. In the next few months, not only did Dr. Tappan visit and care for the birds, she also committed to formalizing their care: She filed the papers to establish the Baiata Bird Sanctuary, which is now hosted on-site and run in honor of Marylou, who died in July. In lieu of flowers, the family asked for donations to the nonprofit—and they received nearly $4,000. The funds allowed Dr. Tappan to improve the birds’ habitat by replacing the gazebo’s floorboards, rescreening the porch, and insulating it with blankets and tarps in cold weather.

Next, Dr. Tappan enlisted volunteers. She placed several ads in a local newspaper and now has more than 10 people, mostly retirees, to support the birds’ care. “It’s very, very helpful to have a good team of volunteers,” she says. They also help her by speaking at community education programs she recently launched. One program was tailored for local homeschooled children. Dr. Tappan and her team educated them about birds and how to care for them. The other is geared toward a local art class and included a discussion about birds’ behavior as well as a painting lesson led by an artist.

Her next step is to formalize the nonprofit’s legal status. Dr. Tappan will apply for 501(c)(3) status and a community grant. “I’ve had my own macaw for 28 years. Birds are a commitment,” she explains. “I’m dedicated to supporting the nonprofit long term.”

If you’d like to volunteer for your own cause, Dr. Tappan offers advice to help you get started:

Target your passions. “I’ve had birds since I was 5 and have three in my home now,” Dr. Tappan says. Seeing them at the local nursery tapped into her natural interests. Once she saw a need, she stepped in to help. Write a list of your passions before beginning your search for opportunities—and remember to keep your eyes open in your community.

Determine how much time you can spend. “I’m at a point where I can devote time almost daily to these birds,” she shares. “Look for opportunities that fit well with the free time you have.” Maybe you have a few hours once a week, one day a month, or could schedule time for a meaningful annual activity.

Finally, start your search. Look in your community for opportunities: Read the newspaper, talk to friends or go online. You’ll find year-round volunteer opportunities on the Walden Service Network.

And remember, whenever you give, you will be rewarded, Dr. Tappan says. “Volunteerism brings a tremendous amount of joy to me. I like giving back to the community, so I seek out opportunities to volunteer. It enriches my life.”

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