Faith-Based Volunteering – With a Spiritual Purpose

There is an abundance of good work that takes place in our communities, and it might not be obvious or well-known.  It is the work of volunteers through faith-based organizations of every denomination.  The religious purpose of volunteering adheres to a higher purpose, and many in the faith-based community aspire to this principle.  Faith-based organizations, such as the Salvation Army, are also typically organized in their service capacity, have a unique connection to or understanding of a certain need, enjoy access to a lot of human capital, and provide an excellent opportunity to serve those in need.

When I was a new volunteer coordinator for a public agency, I was discouraged from recruiting faith-based groups to my program.  Having been a member of a church for my entire life, it seemed plausible because of the existing service component in the faith-based community.  Besides, it seemed a little sketchy to me working on the public sector side of things.  However, as my program expanded and earned media, volunteers from all over town joined the team.  Faith-based groups from every population were interested in my volunteer program.  I could not turn them down.

South Natomas Caring Neighborhood - Max and Virgie Villavert (2)

Max and Virgie Villavert

One of my favorite groups included a Filipino American Church.  The two amazing service leaders were Max and Virgie Villavert.  They were the most sincere, heart-felt, volunteers who really wanted to make a difference.  Max and Virgie spent Friday nights hosting a teen program for neighborhood youth as an alternative for fun, and at some activities had around 100 kids in attendance.  As volunteers for my program, they were constantly seeking out elderly neighbors in need and going the extra distance to help out.  Max and Virgie did not expect anything in return except the opportunity to offer a helping hand.

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of faith-based teams on one-time volunteer projects as well as ongoing endeavors.  These groups provide a unique opportunity to volunteer, as members include all backgrounds.  Some of these groups have the ability to reach individuals in their communities that will not respond to offers of assistance from outsiders.  Others have a sheer volume of human capital through their numbers. They certainly make the difference.

If you are a member of a faith-based organization, or if you live near a faith-based organization, contact leaders and find out what work they are doing in the community.  Faith-based organizations in my community do anything from operate a food closet and homeless shelter for women and children, to collecting in-kind donations of needed materials for a cancer center and provide free employment services.  Through my church, my family contributes monthly donations to three local nonprofit organizations, and we have worked with youth in building life skills and personal development among other things.  At the end of the day it does not matter what you believe, but what you do to help others that counts.

What is your experience with faith-based volunteering?  Please share.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Salvation Army 

Mormon.org – Values and Helping Others

Mary House

Sacramento Loaves and Fishes

Catholic Charities

 

 

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Mentors Bridge the Gap for Youth

Picture1There are not many causes that pull my heart strings more than those about children…the most innocent of victims in poor circumstances.  They have the most to lose and the least with which to fight.    Mentors are working every day to bridge the gap for children in crisis or at-risk of crisis.  Mentors teach youth skills to achieve their life goals and live productive, fulfilling lives.  And, it is still not enough.  There is something that we all can do to help.

All kids need the influence of a positive adult.  However, not all are devoid of a loving home.  Some families have one parent or even two parents who work long hours to support the family.  Other children have a learning or physical disability, or are simply struggling in school.  Others may have endured a traumatic experience such as divorce, loss of a parent to death or prison, abuse or neglect, or are in foster care.

I am inspired by the life stories of two star NFL athletes, Jimmy Graham of the New Orleans Saints and Patrick Willis of the greatest team in the league, San Francisco 49ers.  Both men endured poverty and abuse as children, were rescued by an adult mentor, attended college, and embraced sports with motivation to overcome obstacles.  Both Graham and Willis have shared that the adult mentors in their lives made the difference for them.

Jimmy Graham was abused and abandoned at 9 and again at 11 years old. While attending a local church, a young mother, Becky Vinson, took him under her wing.  The three lived in a small trailer with no heat, where they had to sleep in one room during winter to stay warm.  Becky graduated from college and her example encouraged Jimmy to excel as well.  While Jimmy went on to college at the University of Miami on a basketball scholarship, he played one year of football, and was drafted by the Saints in 2010.

Patrick Willis and his three younger siblings, living in poverty and violence from an alcoholic parent, were on their way to foster care.  A coach and a young couple took the Willis kids into their home and encouraged their education.  Patrick went on to graduate from the University of Mississippi, playing baseball, basketball, and football, where he was All-American.  A highly awarded athlete, he was drafted in 2007 by San Francisco.

The key factor for these outstanding athletes was a mentor, an adult who envisioned a future for these kids whose parents gave up on them.  There are many children, who are in crisis or at-risk of crisis today.

Youth mentors make a difference on a variety of schedules.  Organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, Boys and Girls Club, or your local school district match adults with at-risk students to provide help with homework, engage in hobbies or sports, teach leadership and life skills, and serve as a positive role model.  YOU can make a difference as a youth mentor.

What is your inspiration for mentoring?  Please share.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

The National Mentor Partnership

Big Brothers Big Sisters

Boys and Girls Club of America

Hands On Network

Junior Achievement

Never Underestimate the Power of Gratitude

“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” William James

Being grateful for a kind word, an act of kindness, or a recipient of service is one thing.  Expressing gratitude to the messenger, Samaritan, or volunteer is certainly another.  While volunteers make a difference in the lives of others, recipients can make a difference in the lives of the volunteer simply by saying “Thank You.”  I have learned to never underestimate the power of gratitude.

In “7 Ways to Appreciate Your Volunteers,” Christopher Bautista of Volunteer Match shares how investing your time to recognize volunteers has great benefits in retention and recruitment.

One of the most powerful volunteer retention tools is gratitude.  While the intrinsic value of impacting the lives of others is important, this benefit is only maximized by the sincere, expressed, demonstration of gratitude.  Expressions of gratitude might include saying “Thank you,” during the volunteer activity, providing lunch or snacks, sending a handwritten note after the activity, recognizing volunteers at a special event, or other similar action.

However, showing gratitude begins with providing a rewarding volunteer activity.  Appreciating a volunteer includes recognizing that their time is valuable and could just as easily been spent with another organization or relaxing with a daiquiri on the beach.  Ensuring that eager hands are not idle is imperative. You never want your volunteers to be without a value-added task.  All volunteer work should be of great value directly related to the project or organizational mission.  If this is not clear, the value should be expressed to the volunteer so that he/she knows how they are making a difference.

While working for a government agency, I did not have a significant budget for volunteer recognition.  I had thousands of volunteers, so, I had to be creative.  My volunteer projects always included some type of food, often donated, whether it was breakfast burritos, pizza, hot chocolate, or snacks.  Project introductions included thanking volunteers for coming and a detailed description of how their service specifically made a difference to those we were assisting.  I continuously checked in with volunteers, thanked them for their service, and asked if there was anything they needed.  At the end of the project, I again thanked volunteers and reiterated what value their service added to our recipients and to the organization overall.  Post project, I sent thank you letters to each individual volunteer and group, including a memento specific to their group, and detailed their work in our newsletter.  Several of my volunteers were later recipients of awards from the Mayor of our city and the Governor of California.

Saying “Thank You,” is not enough.  Demonstrating gratitude through the volunteer activity and understanding of value added through the work, as well as our words and actions is invaluable.  When you do this effectively, many volunteers will thank YOU for the opportunity to make a difference through your organization and return again to join in the work.

How do you show gratitude to your volunteers?  Leave a comment. Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Volunteer Match Engaging Volunteers Blog

Points of Light Foundation – Recognition

California Volunteers

When a Cause Hits Home – Volunteering with a Personal Purpose

When my brother AJ was a teenager, he wanted to buy a new guitar. Not just ANY guitar, an expensive one.  He counted the earnings from his part-time job, earned money doing odd jobs, and still came up short.  When all else failed, he suggested selling his pancreas on the black market!  That may sound hubris and odd to anyone who is NOT a teenager, or Type 1, but his pancreas does not work.  See, he has Type 1 Diabetes, and only a cure will make the difference.

Today, AJ turns 25 years old.  When he was diagnosed with T1D in 2003, experts believed there would be a cure by the time he was in his late 20s.  Now that he is officially at the midpoint, and there is not a cure in sight, fighting harder is my family’s only choice.

Ten years ago, AJ, an eagle scout, was at camp for a week in the wilderness.  On the second day, he became violently ill while replenishing his fluids with Gatorade.  By Saturday morning, when he came home, he had physically dropped over 20 lbs.  YES, 20 lbs.  In the middle of the night, he was so sick and his heart was beating so hard that he told my parents he thought he was dying.  Living in the country, they rushed him to the hospital.  Upon arrival he had lost vision and could not walk on his own.  When his blood sugar was 800 mg/dL (normal is 90-130mg/dL0) and his blood pressure was severe, he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.  At 5’8, he was 88 lbs.

That was the beginning. His week-long stay in ICU included IVs, needle sticks, finger pokes, blood sugar measuring, and a completely new eating lifestyle.  As a teenager, his active endocrine system produced emotional highs and lows while coping with the physical effects of T1D as well as the emotional impact.  While getting his blood sugar under control, he would become very sick for hours.  If his sugar was low in the morning, he would not wake up…which extended the time he had gone without eating and compounded the problem.  He had to find his way to manage the disease and live like a teenager.  The worst part of it however, was the realization that his dream of becoming an officer in the U.S. Navy was now not possible.

My dream is that researchers will find a cure for T1D before it is too late for AJ’s kidneys and heart.  My great great grandmother died from T1D in 1913, when not a lot was known about the disease, so we have come a long way.  One of my favorite nonprofits, JDRF (formerly Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) sponsors events all over the world to raise money for researching a cure.  My local chapter has volunteer opportunities in my area, from working in their office or on an event to serving on the board and soliciting donations.  And there are many more ways ANYONE can make a difference.

Are YOU supporting a cause close to your heart?  Please share.  Make YOUR difference in the World…Volunteer!

Thank you, Shannon Nordmeyer for sharing your personal video about T1D!

JDRF

JDRF – Northern California Inland Chapter

JDRF Volunteer – Get Involved

JDRF NorCal – Get Involved

JDFR NorNV – Get Involved

A Call to Action – What Inspires YOU to Volunteer?

Saginaw, TX Neighbors Display Purple Ribbons for Alanna

While working on a blog post earlier in the week, I read an article about a tragedy not far from where my nieces live.  A 6-year-old little girl, Alanna Gallagher, was killed and discarded on a quiet neighborhood street.  A few miles down the road, like Alanna, my niece Alyssa could have been found riding her scooter and playing at the homes of neighbors.  For whatever reason, I felt inspired to act.  Perhaps it is because I am a mom and an aunt to three nieces.   Or, perhaps when tragedies strike children, little Alanna becomes everyone’s child.

Also inspired by this tragedy, neighbors and businesses are wearing  or displaying purple ribbons, representing Alanna’s favorite color and showing support for her family.  But more importantly, they hope to raise awareness of the crime and encourage anyone who saw something or knows something to report it to police.  While neighbors could not save Alanna, they can seek justice for her.  This is their call to action.

Tragedies are a great opportunity for calling volunteers to act.  The storms in Moore, OK a few months ago are a great example.  Earned media repeatedly featured victims and damage in real-time video to viewers nationwide.  This is great for fundraising, rallying the troops, and helping those in need.  But how many of us are working on causes, to make a difference in the everyday lives of others?  Typically, we do not have the advantage of a fantastic news story to compel large funders or attract volunteers.  Yet, what we do is so very important.

Fired Up Fundraising blogger, Gail Perry suggests there is “little passion or energy in so much nonprofit language.”   In a survey of her readers, the most common overused words include “underserved, programs and services.”   How many of us can relate to using this language, over and over again?  The very lifeblood of the organization depends on passionate, emotion evoking, and energetic language.  So, our calls to action must get the attention of volunteers or donors and compel them to act!  TODAY!

Kivi Leroux Miller of the Nonprofit Marketing Guide.com shares a solution, “if you want people to do something, you have to be clear and specific about what that thing is and how they should do it.”  Volunteer to clean the parkway on Saturday. Donate a new child’s backpack.  Feed a sheltered animal for one month.  Find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes.   These are clear, specific calls to action.

Responding to a call for action, our family has committed to helping foster children.  A local business, the Sleep Train, supports various organizations supporting foster agencies in our region.  Through various campaigns, the company raises awareness of the needs of foster children and provides opportunities for people to donate items such as pajamas, shoes, backpacks, money, etc.   While we cannot do anything to help little Alanna, we can help children in crisis here in our community.  You can do the same.

What calls to action have you found compelling?  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Alanna Gallagher – Facebook Page Displaying Purple Ribbons in Saginaw, TX

Nonprofit Marketing Guide

Fired Up Fundraising

Sleep Train Foster Kids

Empower Youth through Meaningful Service Learning

“Passion rebuilds the world for the youth.  It makes all things alive and significant,” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Love, First Essays.

Red Hat Ladies enjoying LBHS Senior Ball with Service Learners

Red Hat Ladies enjoying LBHS Senior Ball with Service Learners

Over the years, I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with many youth in my community through service learning.  Typically coordinated in group projects over a period of time, youth learn about a concept in the classroom or service club, identify an issue or need in the community, then develop a service solution to mitigate the problem.  My projects connected youth with actual needs of real neighbors, and included K-12 students, at-risk high school students, honors programs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Faith-Based groups, and even college students.

One of my most meaningful experiences included a year-long service learning engagement with high school students.  The group was a Public Services Small Learning Community at a high risk school that was termed “Bloodbank,” when I was in high school.   This campus is very diverse, including several languages spoken at home and is troubled by a high degree of gang activity.  It also boasts one of the most robust Navy JROTC programs in the state that helps students stay out of trouble and attend college.

A student lead committee determined that a lot of elderly people lived in the neighborhood and students voted to focus on serving local senior citizens.  The older neighborhood included areas that were 60 to 80% residents 65+ years, so this was a real application of demographics evident to students.  The group chose a series of projects relative to issues learned in class, such as disaster preparedness, home safety, and First Aid.  Two projects of note included making disaster kits for vulnerable elderly neighbors and a “Senior Ball,” for a low-income senior apartment complex.

For the disaster kits, the youth collected emergency items recommended by FEMA, assembled kits, and made home deliveries.  This included writing down contact information for family members, listing any necessary medications, and identifying a specific “go to” location in case of evacuation.  I was inspired by the passion of these students acting as stewards for the elderly, and it was apparent they KNEW they made a difference.  And of course, the seniors loved the youth attention.

Team 2 LBHS Disaster Kits Project Service Learning

Team 2 LBHS Disaster Kits Project Service Learning

The “Senior Ball” was the culminating event for a year-long adoption of a low-income senior complex.  A variety of projects throughout the year focused on these seniors, and students chose to end the year with a dance.  The students created the entire night, and I was there to watch the show.  The youth solicited donations for all materials and planned the itinerary. It was endearing to watch the kids dancing with older people who came alone.  But the real reward was to listen to the passion expressed in their reflections realizing they had the power to make a difference in the lives of others.  They were alive and very much…significant.

Service learning is a wonderful opportunity to empower youth to make a difference through service.  The links below provide additional resources on how YOU can make a difference through service learning.

Please leave a comment and share your experiences with service learning.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

What is Service Learning? – National Service-Learning Clearinghouse

National Dropout Prevention Center/Network – Effective Strategies Service Learning

Heifer International – Service Learning and Fundraising Programs

Skills Based Volunteering- Using Your Personalized Skill Set to Make a Difference

Volunteer RNs at St. Andrew's AME Church Provide Blood Pressure Checks at Community Center

Volunteer RNs at St. Andrew’s AME Church Provide Blood Pressure Checks at Community Center

What are you looking for in a volunteer opportunity?  Are you maximizing your personal value in volunteerism?  Is your organization maximizing its impact on the community and return on investment in an employee volunteer program? YOU have the opportunity to personalize your volunteer efforts, provide a specialized needed service to those in need, and realize a return on your employee volunteer program through skills based volunteering.

Skills based volunteerism is a great opportunity to provide a specialized service to individuals or organizations.  Leveraging your expertise to provide value to others can be incredibly rewarding in a variety of ways.  Many non-profit organizations simply lack the budget to hire professionals to maximize their operations that provide much needed services in the community.  Skills based volunteers fill that gap by sharing their expertise and increasing the value organizations provide to those in need.

However, there is a fine-line in determining what services will be provided without charge, and those that will not.  International freelance writer and volunteer, Sue White, in The Art of Giving Away Your Expertise (Or Not)   recommends that volunteers identify what and understand why your services will be provided for free or charge.  Skills based volunteering does not require you to give away in part or entirety, your economic value.  In fact, there are a variety of ways that you can make a difference by sharing a small piece of your expertise with those who cannot afford to pay for your offering, or providing a service that is not available.

Once you start looking, skills based volunteer opportunities are widely available and in demand.  An earlier post, Find YOUR Passion and volunteer suggests how to search for a local cause that you or your organization is interested in.  Oftentimes, the organization lists in-kind services or volunteer opportunities on its website that it is in need of.

Skills based volunteers are making a difference in a variety of ways.  Employees of a local bank provide personal financial management presentations to a team of at-risk high school students.  Based on high risk for hypertension, a group of RNs from a local African American church provide regular blood pressure checks for fellow parishioners and at neighborhood events.  A colleague and I provided marketing and community outreach plans to a grassroots campaign.  A local CPA provides monthly tax preparation services to low income elderly at the Senior Center.  A retired attorney provides legal advice to the public library.  A talented retired Army veteran, who enjoys crafts, leads activities for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia.  Band musicians provide free entertainment at a children’s fundraising event.  And the list goes on.

Do you have a skillset that could make a difference?  Are you leveraging your personal or organizational resources to maximize your efforts and employee volunteer program?  Engaging in skills based volunteerism is a great opportunity to make a difference and demonstrate how your organization is impacting your community.

How are you making a difference through skills based volunteerism?  Leave a comment.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!