Helping hands come in midst of economic stormPublished 8:46am Saturday, November 14, 2009
By JESSICA SIEFF
Niles Daily Star
For those nonprofit organizations in communities large and small, spanning the city limits and crossing state lines – times are tough.
Many charitable organizations have been hard by a tough economy, donations for everything from food to special services decreasing in number as the numbers of those in need continue to climb.
But in the midst an economic storm that continues to cloud the skies for so many – a little ray of hope.
In the shadow of joblessness an increase in volunteerism has all but created a movement to lend a hand, share some time and make a difference.
“I think when we look at any organization, any business … you rely on two very important resources,” said Doris Higgins, executive director of the Volunteer Center of Southwest Michigan.
Those resources are funding and people.
It is an interesting case of supply and demand.
Funding is in short supply – leaving many businesses or charitable organizations in demand for everything from monetary resources to people willing to help out where work.
“The agencies are definitely seeing the impact of the funding shortage,” Higgins said.
For those with time and skills to share, Higgins said the act of paying it forward could have quite a beneficial payback.
Those who can’t afford to hire workers where work is needed are welcoming of volunteers and in some cases that time can result in a paid position when the opportunity arises, as it did for one volunteer, an individual with experience in information technology who went through the Volunteer Center of Southwest Michigan to see what he could do to help. With the organization’s help and networking he found an organization that needed someone with his skills, now he’s a paid employee.
Volunteering doesn’t necessarily guarantee a job – but even then it can help.
Getting up and donating some time, Higgins said, can be “something that keeps you active, busy and positive.”
That enthusiasm and ambition that can result from feeling accomplished through volunteering can come across to prospective employers during interviews. The experience can be to one’s job skills “can be a great resume builder,” Higgins said.
“What we’re trying to do is expand the base of people who are involved in their communities,” she added.
The Volunteer Center is not unlike any other organization or small business – even a few larger businesses out there these days – it’s struggling financially.
“We keep doing more and more and more with less and less,” Higgins said. But where organizations like the Salvation Army and the United Way might work hard for assistance and donations, the Volunteer Center is out pushing for people.
To be visible, Higgins said, the organization must make sure it’s present at job and volunteer fairs, communicating with partners in the community – those who need help from people and those who have people to help – “reaching out to the specific pockets” of potential volunteers.
“There are literally so many people who volunteer because of the Volunteer Center,” Higgins said. “And we don’t even know it.” Those are the ones, she added, who find opportunities where they can share their time through information that the center continues to try and get out to the public, then contact those agencies in need directly. “Getting that into people’s heads is a critical thing that we do,” she added.
Still, Higgins said, “we have a real image problem with volunteerism sometimes.” There’s an image she questions, one stuck in people’s heads, out of date, of a volunteer being a housewife, stopping at an office building to answer phones a few hours out of her day.
“That is not today’s volunteer,” she said.
If image is the problem – there’s definitely some hope ahead – in fact the tide may already being starting to turn.
From morning news programs to special reports on celebrities who are pushing volunteerism, from the White House to the next “Extreme Home Makeover” – volunteerism is gaining ground and becoming, frankly, cool.
That’s good news for small churches, nonprofits and even small businesses who could use a hand or two. Where funding may be at a standstill in some cases, the efforts of the Volunteer Center and organizations like it continue to make steps forward for individuals and aid the missions of many.
“What we do,” Higgins said. “Really does make a difference and really matters.”
For more information about the Volunteer Center of Southwest Michigan or to find a way to help, visit www.volunteersw mi.org.