Volunteering is as American as apple pie. It has been an American tradition beginning with the days when neighbors pitched in to raise a barn or build a church. Today, thousands of volunteers pitch in every day to help community projects, disaster relief efforts, tutor youths and hundreds of other volunteer projects that are making a difference in their communities. American volunteers have kept democracy alive and have made an immeasurable contribution to communities, organizations and individuals throughout our nation.
This week marks the beginning of the Community Connections Volunteer Center. In late January at a planning meeting with the area human service providers, the need for expanding volunteerism and coordinating the process was identified as a priority. Subsequently, a planning committee comprised of area residents and agency representatives was formed. Through these planning meetings the Community Connections Volunteer Center was born.
Volunteer centers serve as a central point of coordination for organizations and projects needing volunteers and those wanting to get involved and lend a hand. The need for volunteers to help local nonprofit agencies or support important community projects has grown significantly in the past decade. For many nonprofit agencies, recruiting volunteers that have the skills and interests that nonprofit organizations need is a difficult and time-consuming task. The Community Connections Volunteer Center will help take the work out of finding volunteers for these agencies. One central registry for volunteers and volunteer opportunities will take this cumbersome task and make it easily manageable. The long-term goal for our Volunteer Center is to have a large database of available volunteers for agencies and event planners when they have a volunteer need.
Volunteer centers have four basic functions: 1) mobilize volunteers and resources in their communities to deliver solutions to community problems; 2) promote communitywide planning and cooperation among businesses and community agencies to expand and facilitate volunteering; 3) recruit volunteers and help direct them to local volunteer opportunities; and 4) promote volunteerism to as a way for people to get involved, give back and make a positive difference in their community.
The concept of volunteer centers is not a new one. The first facility devoted to promoting volunteerism was founded in 1919 in Minneapolis. Thirty years later there were volunteer centers active in 81 cities. In 1951, United Way of America began supporting the growth and development of volunteer centers across the nation as a strategy to engage community-minded citizens in meaningful ways to touch the lives of fellow citizens and neighbors in their communities. By 1987, there were 300 volunteer centers operating in cities across America.
In the early 1990s, a national initiative to expand volunteerism in the U.S. was launched with the beginning of the newly formed Points of Light Foundation, which provided vision, leadership and resources to advance volunteerism in America. Today more than 400 volunteer centers are active throughout the United States. Volunteerism is receiving wide attention and enjoying unprecedented success, both among ordinary citizens of all ages, as well as with corporate America. The National Council of Volunteer Centers, assisted by the Points of Light Foundation, the Corporation for National Service and America's Promise among other organizations, are engaged in an intensive effort to assist the nation's volunteer centers to become even more effective and valuable resources in their communities.
Community Connections Volunteer Center is committed to mobilizing the compassion of individuals to bring about positive change in our community and surrounding communities.
The Volunteer Center strengthens our community by connecting people to meaningful volunteer opportunities and promotes volunteerism as an important and effective way for people to make a real impact in their communities.
The Volunteer Center supports nonprofit organizations, community causes and events by building partnerships while mobilizing and inspiring volunteers to get involved and lend a helping hand.
In Iowa, the Commission on Volunteer Service was formed in 1978 to help expand volunteerism within our state. Currently there are 10 active volunteer centers within Iowa; but the Iowa commission identified a need for a center located in the Fort Dodge area. The timing was ironic because our planning committee had already begun its work when the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way was contacted by the Commission on Volunteer Service.
Today, we launch the Community Connections Volunteer Center, and even though it is in an infancy stage, we have big hopes and plans for the near future. We hope to engage hundreds of citizens of all ages and youths in rewarding volunteer opportunities. Our goal is to develop a full-service volunteer center that will connect people who care with volunteer opportunities to make our community and county a better place to live, work, play and raise our families.
A unique function of the Community Connections Volunteer Center is a service that we call "Bridging the Gap." This need was developed in our planning meetings, and our committee identified an innovative way to address a crucial community need by utilizing volunteers. There are hundreds of families in our community that are struggling to make ends meet. Many are in need of important household items that are crucial for everyday living such as beds, dressers, appliances, clothing and other household or personal items that most of us take for granted. Many of us have these no-longer-used items in our basements or attics, collecting dust. The goal of Bridging the Gap is to connect the families in need with items that are readily available; we just need a central point of coordination to make this happen. In essence, it is about lending a helping hand to assist a fellow neighbor in need. Isn't that what "community" is all about? It is still a great American tradition.
If you are interested in learning how to get involved as a volunteer or to find out what volunteer opportunities are currently available in our community, simply go to our new website - www.ccvolunteercenter.com - for more information. You never know how you may touch a life unless you give it a try. Volunteering is a great way to make a difference and in the process, can be very rewarding experience. The Community Connections Volunteer Center is here to help. Give us a call and let us help you find the right volunteer opportunity for you.
Jessica Martens is the Volunteer Center coordinator. Michelle Reed is the Community Connections coordinator.