The following is a special guest post from Nancy Matson, creator of Stuff You Don’t Want, a handy blog for getting the most out of used, unwanted, and thrifted items.
* * * * *
Everyones knows you can get free books at the public library or go hiking at amazing parks maintained by the city or state, but are you really taking full advantage of all the goodies offered by local government services?
You might as well use what your taxes have already paid for, right?
To that end, below I’ve curated a list of local services you might not have even heard of, but should definitely take advantage of if you have the need.
From tax prep to cooking classes, energy rebates to toy loans, there’s bound to be something useful on the list for everyone.
Hope it’s helpful!
1. Free Tax Preparation at the Library
Daunted by the prospect of doing your taxes? Get some help from the AARP Tax Foundation or Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) at your local library!
I spoke to Ken Blum, branch manager at the West Valley Regional Branch Library, who told me that the AARP volunteers at his library assist patrons of any age, though they give preference to people over 50 and low-income patrons.
There are some restrictions based on the type of tax forms your return requires, so if yours are unusually complex, best to call ahead to see if they can help you. Check the Los Angeles Public Library site for a participating branch near you (type in “tax” in the calendar search box) and stop in or call them for details.
Please note that some of the branches have income qualifications, though not all. (The Panorama City branch, for example, serviced by California State University Northridge, limits their assistance to anyone making under $54,000 annually.)
While you’re at the library, pick up a book or DVD and glance at their events schedule. Maybe it’s finally time for you to learn how to play chess.
2. Free Mediation Services
The Department of Consumer and Business Affairs offers free mediation services to any LA County residents involved in a dispute, whether it’s landlord/tenant, business/customer, or HOA/condo owner, or even between family members. As long as both parties agree to it, it’s a great alternative to the court system, which ultimately saves you time and money and frees up the legal system for more pressing matters. If mediation fails, you can still pursue the matter in court afterward.
The DCBA also provides consumer counseling, small claims advice, and assistance for small businesses, as well as advice for homeowners facing foreclosure.
3. Rebates, Trees, and Free Low Flow Faucets from the LADWP
You want to save energy, and The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power wants the same thing. Bad. To nudge you along, it offers a number of rebates for installing things like high-efficiency toilets and Energy Star windows. It also offers free shade trees, including fruit trees, to both residents and businesses, since trees remove pollutants from the air and decrease ambient temperatures in building – generally a good thing in hot Los Angeles.
If you still haven’t picked up low flow faucets to do your bit for the drought, it’s not too late to get some for absolutely nothing. I will personally vouch for their shower heads, which work great and have a slider so you can temporarily stop the flow of water while you’re sudsing up.
4. Job Leads for Young People
Are you between the ages of 16 and 24 and could use some help landing a job, especially your first job? Sign up with L.A. Youth at Work! Once you’ve gone through their program and earned one of their work readiness certificates, you can tap into their network of job leads. They’ll help you put together a professional resume and give you job interview tips, skills that will come in handy no matter what, and give you a leg up on the competition.
5. Volunteer Placement
Do you want to give back but you’re not sure where to start? If you’re in the Culver City area, you can check their volunteer directory or get advice from certified volunteer administrator Jill Thomsen. If you can’t commit to a regular volunteer slot, sign up for SWAT (Someone With Available Time) and fill in on an ad hoc basis when their occasional requests come in. Your local area might have a similar service.
Non-profit LA Works is also a great resource for helping residents give back citywide, whether you have a single Saturday afternoon free or can commit to something more regular. Check their community service opportunities for a position that’s right for you.
6. Cooking Classes
Sick of your kids complaining about what you make them for dinner? Sign them up for cooking lessons through the L.A. County Department of Parks and Recreation and start make them cook for you!
There are a handful of parks that offer cooking classes for kids as young as six. Ladera Park’s next class if starting up in the spring, so if you’re interested, stop by or call in a few months. Some of the park branches also offering cooking classes for seniors.
Other classes available include crafting, BMX racing, dog obedience programs, and a wide variety of sports. I am most intrigued by the Crime Scene Investigations Camp at Amelia Mayberry Park, so if anyone signs up for that, please let me know how it is!
Make sure to call individual L.A. County parks directly for a complete list of available classes at each location.
7. Toy Loans
The Department of Public Social Services sponsors a Toy Loan program, offering free toys for checkout at dozens of centers throughout L.A.. While some of them are not open to the public, serving only the students at a particular school or other institution, there are about a dozen centers located at state parks that are open to any interested kids.
The one at Mary M. Bethune Park, for example, has board games, trucks, and dolls available for checkout on Tuesdays and Thursdays. (The staff member I spoke to warned me that it’s no ToysRUs over there, so don’t ramp up your expectations too high. You will not be getting a free Xbox.)
All toy centers offer a chance for participating children to earn their own toys through responsible use of the program over a multi-week period.
8. Free or Discounted Spaying and Neutering For Your Animal Companion
While we can all appreciate the efforts made by various rescue organizations to save individual dogs and cats from being euthanized in city shelters, the best way to keep future generations of unwanted pets from spending years in a shelter or facing an early death is for everyone to spay or neuter their animals. Do it if you haven’t! There are many health benefits to this procedure, and it is required by law in most cases.
All L.A. residents are entitled to a $30 voucher towards the procedure, which can be claimed in person at your closest city shelter by simply showing your ID. If you live in a household that made less than $30,000 last year, you can get a voucher that covers the full cost. If this is you, bring your 2015 income taxes, social security statement, or Department of Water and Power bill showing your income-based discount along with your ID.
9. Online Services From the Library
Not a big reader? It’s still worth making the one trek to the your local branch for a card so you can sign up for online classes from Lynda.com, Khan Academy, or Mango Languages. You’ll be designing in Photoshop while chatting in Arabic in no time.
10. Little Free Libraries in West Hollywood
If you reside in West Hollywood and are a fan of those tiny little libraries that offer free books, and are willing to be a steward for one for a year, apply for a $600 grant from the city to fund your own.
If you’re handy, you could build one, or you could buy a super cute pre-made one from the Little Free Library people. It’s a great way to promote reading and meet your neighbors. As of this writing, they have 6 stipends left! Wouldn’t one look adorable in your front yard?
For more information on Nancy be sure to follow her on Twitter @StuffuDontWant