"Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one."

Stella Adler, actress

We certainly learned a few things about helping others last year. Considering the damage left by three hurricanes, it's not surprising that there's been a strengthened commitment to lend a hand.

The countless volunteers and donors of the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, the American Red Cross of Central Florida and the Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida can never have too much help in making sure there's food on every plate, water to drink and a shelter over all heads.

But there's another critical realm of volunteering in Central Florida that's more about enriching the quality of life than survival itself – the arts. And that realm has been hit hard, too, by the post-Sept. 11 economy and the slashing of arts budgets at the local, state and national levels.

"We can never do enough when it comes to volunteering in the arts," says Margot H. Knight, president and CEO of United Arts of Central Florida.

Knight has seen arts volunteers evolve to include housewives, high school students, executives, families and singles. They come in all ages, from all walks of life and income levels. There's no end to the variety of jobs they take up. Some people want to bake cookies, others want to staple into oblivion or become president of the board of directors. Sometimes it's a work or school requirement that drives people to volunteer. Sometimes the motive is economic; many arts groups give complimentary tickets, discounts and other perks, which means that you're trading your free labor for affordable cultural enrichment.

"Our groups are in constant need," Knight says of the 50 or so nonprofit arts organizations supported in one way or another by UA. The list includes businesses, governments, foundations, arts and culture organizations, school districts, artists and individuals in Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties.

While United Arts of Central Florida can quantify the $78 million it has directly infused into local culture since 1989, there's no way to tally the hours of donated manpower. The average volunteer hour in the state of Florida is worth $14.58, according to studies by Independent Sector, a support coalition for not-for-profit initiatives, philanthropy and citizen action. Volunteer time really is money.

Currently, there is no cyber system that can instantly plug an individual into an arts volunteer position, though United Arts is working on one. But most of the area's nonprofit arts organizations operate websites that clearly speak to volunteer needs. For that purpose, we have compiled a listing of UA-supported arts organizations with web addresses and other contact info.

E-mail is often the best way to get started. Orlando Opera (, for example, has a highly developed volunteer effort. Organizer Natalie Carrozza has teams of people that handle bulk mailings and customer service, as well as opportunities for office and production assistants and sundry other tasks necessary to lift the company's season of performances. And there are other organizations that always fly by the seat of their pants, such as the Orlando International Fringe Festival ( which is gearing up for its annual festival, May 19 through 29, and encouraging volunteers to sign up now in order to attend necessary training sessions before the big event. With a more immediate need, Beth Marshall in the main office says she could make use of smart, experienced and computer-friendly office workers.

Researching groups before volunteering is a good idea. But when it's time to make a commitment, Knight recommends a one-on-one interview. Experience has taught her that "placing volunteers is as important as placing someone in a job." Just like a real job interview, says Knight, "on both ends, you need to be real clear about what's expected of you, or it can become a bad experience."

And while volunteers are frequently driven by a desire to help others, Knight doesn't want you to forget about your own goals.

"Altruism, when tied to self-interest, is that much more successful," says Knight.

Things to ponder before jumping into a volunteer position

What is your passion?
Do you want to do something you know, or do you want to learn something new?
Are you a leader or a follower?
Are you looking to become affiliated with an organization on a long-term basis, or are you after some sporadic hustle and bustle?
Do you prefer to work alone or with a group?
Is there a specific age group you want to work with?
Do you want to work as an individual or do you want to share the time with your partner, kids, family or friends?
Would you like your volunteer work to be in some way aligned with your career goals?

Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens
633 Osceola Ave., Winter Park
(407) 647-6294;

The mission: "To promote the legacy of internationally known sculptor, Albin Polasek, N.A. and to encourage study, appreciation and the furtherance of representational art." This is a classy but hidden-away museum that attracts both families and society types and is brushing off its elitist reputation (which probably would have offended the artist) by bringing in folk concerts and other family events.

Applause Academy
4472 White Oak Circle, Kissimmee
(407) 361-7146;

This grassroots school for music, theater and the performing arts teaches children and teens via creative play and performance; the group has tie-ins with the Osceola Center for the Arts.

Asian Cultural Association
2759 Marsh Wren Circle, Longwood
(407) 333-3667;

Though humble, this eclectic organization promotes, educates and showcases the performing and visual arts of the Indian subcontinent. The organizers have several music and dance programs during the year, as well as the South Asian Film Festival in April at Enzian Theater.

Association to Preserve African American Society, History and Tradition, Inc. (PAST)
Wells' Built Museum
511 W. South St.
(407) 245-7535;

Headquartered in the historic Wells' Built Museum on the west side of downtown, and responsible for supporting the museum, PAST is dedicated to remembering the life and works of Orlando's African-American history, including their home in the former 1920s hotel that once hosted jazz greats passing through on the chitlin circuit. Grounded by citizen stalwarts, PAST's social activities range from jazz concerts to theater shows to networking mixers.

P.E.C. (The Association to Preserve the Eatonville Community)
227 E. Kennedy Blvd., Eatonville
(407) 647-3307;

Incorporated in 1988, P.E.C. is a membership-based, tax-exempt, historic preservation organization dedicated to enhancing the cultural resources of Eatonville, the oldest incorporated African American municipality in the United States and the hometown of legendary writer Zora Neale Hurston. It takes a full year for a massive volunteer base to pull together The Annual Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities in January. And to date, the Hurston museum hasn't been open to the public since the hurricanes.

Bach Festival Society of Winter Park, Florida
1000 Holt Avenue - 2763, Winter Park
(407) 646-2182;

Long established at Rollins College and distinguished as the "third oldest continuously operating Bach Festival in the United States," the society's main feast is its February festival (Feb. 18-March 5, 2005) with a host of recitals and chamber music performances cropping up during the year. Most of the singers in the choir are trained musicians but they volunteer their time to the prestigious institution. Change at this year's festival is underway due to the recent demise of John M. Tiedtke, who helmed the Bach Festival since 1954.

Central Florida Ballet
The Ballet Academy of Central Florida
4525 Vineland Road, Suite 204
(407) 849-9948;

The professional ballet company reaches all ages in its programming. The dancers teach classes, perform in schools and for outreach programs – including A Dancing Chance for at-risk women recovering from substance abuse – as well as present an annual season of classical ballet including The Nutcracker.

Central Florida Performing Arts Alliance
398 W. Amelia St.
(407) 872-2382;

The stated mission of the CFPAA is "to support and promote the development and growth of its members by providing resources and information, acting as advocates in the interests of its members and nurturing relationships with the community-at-large." But considering that hundreds of organizations and individuals are part of this deeply entrenched network, let's just say that they have a respectful and respected finger in everyone's pie when in comes to the theater community, thanks to executive director Jim Morris.

Crealdé School of Art
600 Saint Andrews Blvd., Winter Park
(407) 671-1886;

There's a family feeling among the students, teachers and staff that keep this happening art enclave buzzing. Between the classes, gallery exhibitions and special events, there's always something on the social calendar, which means there is always a need for volunteers to help out with invitations and keep the databases filled. Lots of local luminaries and nobodies on the arts scene call this place home.

Enzian Theater
1300 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland
(407) 629-1088;

As Central Florida's only full-time, nonprofit alternative cinema, Enzian is in a league of its own. And if you haven't heard of the Florida Film Festival, then you paid too much for your city guide. The annual FFF (April 8-17, 2005) is the crown jewel in Enzian's special events, though it produces a total of six film festivals, the Popcorn Flicks in the Park series and a Cult Classics series in addition to its weekly changing fare. But it's the FFF – considered by many to be one of the top film festivals in the country – that's earned a reputation for being The Volunteer Event: You never know what's going to happen where and with whom, and you see all those weird movies. There are regulars who sign up every year.

Festival of Orchestras
1353 Palmetto Ave., Suite 100, Winter Park
(407) 539-0245;

If making sure that world-class symphonic music continues to be a part of the community is important to you, and ensuring that our children and their children know an orchestra from a symphony, this nonprofit shares your concerns. Festival of Orchestras holds five major concerts each year at Carr Performing Arts Centre, introducing a variety of international players to keep the classics alive.

Florida Children's Repertory Theatre
3376 Edgewater Drive(407) 657-4483;

Now housed in the former Mark Two Dinner Theatre, Florida Children's Repertory Theatre is a professional company of adult actors that presents four children's plays a year, performing them for school field trips and for the public in the venerable location. Saturday shows take place at the Studio B Theatre in the Lowndes Shakespeare Center. It's all about the kids and the magic of live theater.

Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra
812 E. Rollins St., Suite 300
(407) 999-7800;

Selected by audition, FSYO musicians range from third graders to college sophomores. In addition to performing with the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra for their public concerts, young musicians receive private one-on-one instruction. Rehearsals take place in the Lowndes Shakespeare Center during the school year, and it's not hard to imagine the many needs of an auditorium full of energetic young adults and their instruments.

Helen Stairs Theatre for the Performing Arts
2003 S. Magnolia Ave., Sanford
(407) 321-8111;

The past and present of Sanford meet at the Helen Stairs Theatre, which was established in 1923 as the lush Milane Theater. The historic landmark hosted concerts and theater performances, shifting into a motion picture theater as the times changed. Completely renovated in 2000, the theater is run by The Ritz Community Theater Projects Inc., a not-for-profit corporation. There's a lot of action here, with an annual program of concerts, theater, dance and special events. In February alone: Peter Rabbit, a Rock 'n' Roll Jazz Musical, Caribbean Sound steel band and the Miss Seminole County Pageant.

The Holocaust Memorial Resource and Education Center of Central Florida
851 N. Maitland Ave., Maitland
(407) 628-0555;

This action-filled Jewish network offers an amazing amount of amenities: museum, library, art gallery, film series, educational programs, theater, music and special events. And the mission has never been so important: Combating anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry through Holocaust remembrance and education to build a tolerant and inclusive community.

IHOBF-Orlando (International House of Blues Foundation, Orlando)
1490 E. Buena Vista Drive, Lake Buena Vista
(407) 934-2283;

This nonprofit chain of organizations tucked within the House of Blues system is "dedicated to bringing the arts to schools and communities through programs that increase public awareness of African American contributions to American culture." The programs and school outreaches are first-class, including the Blues SchoolHouse, a multimedia class that teaches about American culture and social history through blues music and folk art.

Mad Cow Theatre
105 S. Magnolia Ave.
(407) 297-8788;

Mad Cow is the shining example of a thriving downtown theater, and increasing ticket sales back up the kudos. In addition to its professionally acted season of theater works, Mad Cow also tours in area schools, teaches classes for children and adults, and runs a summer internship program for high school students. Plus they loan their space out to a variety of other performing arts troupes that don't yet have their own homes.

Magic of Orlando Drum & Bugle Corps
200 Hatteras Ave., Clermont(352) 394-2469;

There could be touring in your volunteer life, if you sign on with this crew who believe in "providing the youth of today with the means to develop life skills, character building, and foster teamwork, while cultivating the talents of tomorrow's leaders." Discipline is the order of the day, with the kids committing to music practice and to participate in camps, tours and performances. As for volunteers, there are lots of kids, instruments and uniforms to keep track of, in addition to feeding those marching wonders three squares a day.

Maitland Art Center
31 W. Packwood Ave., Maitland
(407) 539-2181;

History and art come together at this aesthetically pleasing and spiritually uplifting complex in Maitland. The inside galleries host rotating exhibits by local, national and international artists; and the rentable chapel grounds outside are sought after for weddings and other special events. Here they need volunteers to pull weeds, clean windows, guide tours and plan weddings.

Mennello Museum of American Folk Art
900 E. Princeton St.
(407) 246-4278;

Owned by the city of Orlando, the Mennello is a beautiful museum that exquisitely showcases its permanent collection of paintings by St. Augustine folk artist Earl Cunningham (1893-1977) with backlighting and other technical wonders. Short on staff and programming, the Mennello brings in traveling exhibitions throughout the year, as well as hosting special events and lectures, and maintaining its gift shop.

The Messiah Choral Society
P.O. Box 3496, Winter Park, FL 32790

A seasonal volunteer group, the Messiah Choral Society exists solely to perform Handel's The Messiah every November at Carr Performing Arts Centre, under the direction of John V. Sinclair of the Bach Festival Society. The performance of the famous oratorio is free and open to the public. If you can sing, there might be a place for you in this local crème de la crème production, but there are also choir robes to be made and other charitable chores.

MicheLee Puppets
P.O. Box 574704, Orlando, FL 32857
(407) 898-7925;

MicheLee Puppets came alive in 1985 at the hands of Tracey Garver "to provide entertaining and educational puppet shows for Central Florida children." There are now 10 staffers who help to reach more than 100,000 kids and their imaginations throughout Florida in programs that creatively address social issues, from understanding disabilities to racial tolerance to bad bullies.

Mount Dora Center for the Arts
138 E. Fifth Ave., Mount Dora
(352) 383-0880;

It's been an uphill struggle for the Mount Dora Center for the Arts to keep its programming alive despite the hard financial times. They feature changing art exhibits and offer community classes, but the Mount Dora Arts Festival in February is their major annual affair, and it relies on hundreds of volunteers to make it happen.

Mount Dora Festival of Music and Literature
P.O. Box 712, Mount Dora, FL 32756
(352) 385-1010;

Not quite 10 years old, this 10-day festival highlights the community's cultural affairs with an April lineup of concerts, literary events and performing arts. The focus is local – talent, venues and audience – which is the low-key charm.

Orange County Regional History Center
65 E. Central Blvd.
(407) 836-8500;

If you're age 16 or older, the Orange County Regional History Center can put you to work daily, weekly or just for special events. The center's elegant and spacious home in downtown's Heritage Square has taken the organization far from its roots in Loch Haven Park. But the heart of the history center has always been full of volunteer commitment, from the craftspeople who build the exhibits to the tour guides that show the place off.

Orlando Ballet
Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center
1111 N. Orange Ave.
(407) 426-1733;

One of the area's top-tier arts organizations, Orlando Ballet's professional troupe of national and international dancers perform an annual season, September through May, at Carr Performing Arts Centre, under the artistic direction of Fernando Bujones. And thousands of pint-sized ballerinas and danseurs have twirled out of the Orlando Ballet School doors, since it was established 30 years ago. Think of what it takes to pull off just The Nutcracker every year – the orchestra, the scenery, the costumes, the kids.

The Orlando Chorale
P.O. Box 536968, Orlando, FL 32853
(407) 896-8624;

The vocal power of this community chorus is about 60 voices strong. Auditions are held in August for the season of performances of both classic works and new ventures, such as last year's Holiday Treat collaboration with Mad Cow Theatre Company and Orlando Ballet. The organization prides itself on giving back to the community, via donations to local charities, educational scholarships and recognition of national and Florida composers, and local talents.

Orlando City Ballet and Russian Academy of Ballet
421 N. Bumby Ave.,
1425 Tuskawilla Road, Winter Springs
(407) 896-0309, (407) 695-4752;

The professionals and students in the Orlando City Ballet troupe dance in a variety of public programs throughout the year, including The Nutcracker, usually performed at Valencia Community College Performing Arts Center. But the Orlando City Ballet makes their home in the Russian Academy of Ballet, which offers instruction for ages 3 and older in ballet, pointe, creative movement, modern, jazz, hip-hop and musical theater.

Orlando Gay Chorus
P.O. Box 3103, Orlando, FL 32802
(407) 841-7464;

The Support Team is what the Orlando Gay Chorus calls its non-singing volunteers, who help with PR, tickets, ushering and other odds and ends. Singers are also auditioned in August, January and March/April, with an open call to "gay, straight and in-between people of all ages and beliefs" interested in working together to produce first-class performances of classic and contemporary music. Call them a bunch of Pollyannas, but this group genuinely seeks to use their music to "change images and attitudes; build a stronger community; and make the world a better place."

Orlando International Fringe Festival
398 W. Amelia St.
(407) 648-0077;

The annual Orlando International Fringe Festival that brings "10 days of Theatre, Arts, Music, and Madness" is like the Super Bowl of volunteer sports. Almost 300 volunteers pitch in throughout the year, and organizers are always on the lookout for potential helpers. For the festival scheduled for May 19-29, 2005, go to the "Volunteer" section of the Orlando Fringe website to sign up for the necessary training sessions to help with ticketing and other logistics.

Orlando Museum of Art
2416 N. Mills Ave.
(407) 896-4231;

There are many different volunteer arms of the Orlando Museum of Art, and they attract different demographic slices to fill them, meaning volunteering here has excellent networking potential. Take a look at the extensive list of sponsors and members on the website. Then there's the annual Festival of Trees and other tasteful and dollar-raising events organized by the ladies of the Council of 101. Plus OMA hosts monthly 1st Thursdays social mixers and ongoing educational programs for children and adults, and there's a continuing need for docents, officers workers and literal movers and shakers.

Orlando Opera
Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center
1111 N. Orange Ave.
(407) 426-1717;

Interestingly, almost 50 years ago the Junior League of Greater Orlando launched the project that is now Orlando Opera. Its vast volunteer system reflects the sense of community leadership and social life that built it, but there's an edgy sophistication to the professional company itself as overseen by Robert Swedberg, who does some clever stuff. And that level of quality feeds back to the broad base of volunteers.

Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra
812 E. Rollins St., Suite 300
(407) 896-6700;

The group of professional musicians in OPO collaborate with Orlando Opera, Orlando Ballet and other companies who demand the very best, in addition to presenting a series of programs: Orlando Phil at Carr, Summer Sounds, Darden Family Concerts and Focus Series. The Friends of the Orlando Philharmonic both raise funds ($300,000 since December 1996) and organize volunteers whose mission is to support the staff, whatever it takes.

Orlando Repertory Theatre
1001 Princeton St.
(407) 896-7365;

Housed in what's still referred to as the former Civic Theatres of Central Florida, the Orlando Repertory Theatre works in partnership with the University of Central Florida. The playground, so to speak, for M.F.A. candidates at UCF, The Rep's mission is to "bring outstanding, professional theatre to Central Florida families based on classic and contemporary children's literature." Helping the characters come to life are the volunteers needed to usher, plan parties, distribute fliers, paint scenery, sew costumes and jigger the high-tech toys.

Orlando Science Center
777 E. Princeton St.
(407) 514-2000;

Both teens (ages 12-17) and adults are in demand to flesh out the volunteer needs of our city's science attraction. Volunteer discounts and special invites to film and exhibit previews are some of the perks, if you love to interact with people of all ages, especially the stroller set. Animal instincts are valuable too, with the center's always-popular critter exhibits and educational outreaches. There's a place for star-gazers as well, in the planetarium programs.

Orlando Theatre Project
Seminole Community College
100 Weldon Blvd., Sanford
(407) 328-4722, ext. 3323;

Don't be mistaken by the north-of-Orlando headquarters of this seasoned professional theater company that operates out of the Fine Arts Theatre at SCC's main campus. It's a strong collective of creative types who perform in addition to providing educational programming, such as the OTP KidsProject and the Summer Theatre Institute. Volunteer opportunities are posted on the website, but involvement could be as simple as ushering one performance in exchange for a free ticket.

Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival
812 E. Rollins St., Suite 100
(407) 447-1700;

Your imagination is the limit when it comes to jumping into bed with what is arguably the most renowned professional theater company in these parts. For this organization there are suited-up, fund-raising roles to play, as well as teams of ushers for nightly performances. And from there, the volunteer list goes on. Can you sew? Paint without pause? Settle down school kids? The stars are not always on stage at the OSF.

Osceola Center for the Arts
2411 E. Irlo Bronson Hwy., Kissimmee
(407) 846-6257;

A cultural oasis in what was once a cow town, the Osceola Center for the Arts is home to: The Center Arts Associates; The Osceola Players; A.C.E. (Arts for a Complete Education); Central Florida Classical Guitar Society; Word Weavers; The Osceola Crafters Guild; The Osceola Creative Art League; The Center Jazz Band; The Patchers of Time Quilt Guild and The Silver Cloud Orchestra. Continuing in the same name-filled vein, the center's three volunteer divisions are called: Pony Express, Hosts With the Most and Membership Movers.

People's Theatre
511 W. South St., Suite 211
(407) 426-0545;

After a year of serious reorganization, the community theater company driven by Canara Price and the supporting People's Theatre Guild are hard at work on planning the two family-friendly performances remaining in the 2005 season (Sweet Nothing in My Ear, May 20-29; and School Daze, July 22-31). All types of activities are waiting for willing, warm bodies – be it office work, fund-raising, creating sets and costumes or updating the website. Diversity is what People's Theatre celebrates, with emphasis on African American culture.

Pinocchio's Marionette Theater
525 S. Semoran Blvd., Winter Park
(407) 677-8831;

This is a nonprofit professional marionette company that, by its mission, "introduces children to live theater, the ancient art of marionette puppetry, and theater etiquette too." Children's classics are generally performed Thursdays through Saturdays. There is no telling the mysterious secrets that unfold to volunteers as they find out the tricks of the trade.

Playwrights' Round Table
Attn: Writing Committee, 2450 Pleasant Drive, Longwood, FL 32779
(407) 788-8468;

Words are the creative tender brokered by this loose group of aspiring actors, directors and writers devoted to stagecraft. Volunteer engagements range from readings and workshops to an annual festival of new plays. If you love the theater, even as an appreciator, there's bound to be a place for you in this organization.

Tajiri School of Performing Arts and Academics
519 Palmetto Ave., Sanford
(407) 324-9140

Tajiri (the Swahili word for "rich") is an after-school program for ages 3 to 17 designed to build confidence and motivation through the use of the arts. Classes are offered in different styles of dance, mime, oratorical techniques, storytelling and other disciplines. Executive director Peggy Nixon started the program after retiring from the Seminole County school system, bringing her love for teaching and the goal to see students succeed.

Theatre Downtown
2113 N. Orange Ave.
(407) 841-0083;

The old saying about the magic of theater is especially true at this institution, which continues to survive under the spell of Frank and Fran Hilgenberg. Essentially a volunteer organization – the actors onstage, the tech and production crew behind the scenes, the ushers, the fund-raisers – everyone is involved in the full season of productions, so it's a great place to plug in. If you show up here one day, they'll likely put you to work on the spot.

Voci Dance
P.O. Box 560755, Orlando, FL 32856
(407) 382-7885;

While working with these young, red-blooded dancers, you'll be making history, as Voci is Orlando's first modern dance troupe and it's making waves. Founder/Executive Director Adrienne Nichols, a dancer herself, is connecting the art form with her personal passion for the community at large, offering both performances and dance education. At the moment, the troupe has no official home, so Voci is itinerant with its rehearsals and shows and relies heavily on the kindness of strangers.

Wekiva River Players
(407) 262-1801;

A variety of venues have served as home for this community theater since it opened its curtains in 1993; most recently, the Walt Griffin Center for the Performing Arts at Millennium Middle School in Sanford. The WRP freely admits that it "survives on the skills and dedication of volunteers." So there's always a need for actors, singers, directors, choreographers, music directors, tech staff and others experienced in the free-for-all that is community theater.

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