Can You Spare an Hour a Week to Help?

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Did you go to Art on the Avenue or the Festival of the Arts? Are you going to the Annual Scottish Heritage Fair? Will you participate in the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot? All of these events are dependent upon volunteers. Would you consider being a volunteer at one of these events? If your answer is yes, would you know who to contact?

Would you volunteer if your hours were flexible and you did not need to make a long term commitment? If you had ready information on 450 organizations and very specific information on what they need would that be a factor in your decision to volunteer?

Our neighbor Fred is a good example of a person who wanted to volunteer but did not know how to get involved. He loves to read. He goes to book signings, follows the book festivals and spends at least an hour every night reading his latest find. Fred believes that reading is a wonderful pastime and he is worried that kids dont read anymore. He would like to find a way to help but he doesnt know what he could fit into his busy schedule that includes frequent travel.

One place where Fred can explore volunteer opportunities is at the Alexandria Volunteer Bureau. They have more that 450 not-for-profit organizations listed in their database. Fred can also visit www.1-800-volunteer.org. There he might type in the keyword reading, select Alexandria, VA and “positions in the city. Currently, that search would show 23 volunteer choices at seven not-for- profits. One of those was posted by Wright to Read. This is a national pediatric literacy program that partners with the Alexandria Health Department. Volunteers read out loud to children while they are waiting for their baby visits. If Fred thought this would be a good match he could then choose which day of the week he wanted and the time he wanted to volunteer. Everything is matched and completed through the database.

For Leigh Hoyer, Director of the Wright to Read program at the Campagna Center, the Alexandria Volunteer Bureau is viewed as an important partner.

We get 70 percent of our referrals from on-line inquiries thought Volunteer Match and 1-800-Volunteer, said Hoyer. 1-800-Volunteer is wonderful because people can go to the site, look at their own pace and then contact us knowing just what we need and what they are willing and able to provide.

Volunteering is a win-win scenario. The organizations that so desperately need the assistance of volunteers are able to run their programs and the volunteers have the opportunity to learn or develop news skills, be a part of their community, feel a sense of achievement and meet new friends.

At the Alexandria Community Trust Excellence Forum this week, keynote speaker Ted Leonsis, of AOL and the Washington Wizards, spoke on the value of volunteering as one of the keys to happiness. He stressed the getting out of the I and getting into the we as a means of finding a higher calling in everything you do.

According to Melinda Patrician, the Executive Director of the AVB, there are currently 2,400 registered volunteers in the database. We are an intermediary volunteer organization, a volunteer force multipler, said Patrician. Our on-line database makes it easy to volunteer. You can come in or search by interest or by organization or by zip code.

When Patrician, who has a background in civic and community engagement, as well as not-for-profit public relations, applied for the position of Executive Director in 2006, she saw a great opportunity to merge the concept of volunteerism with community engagement.  She mentioned that many of the people running our cities and towns are volunteers and that the boards and commissions in Alexandria would not run without them. One example she cited was their annual Spring for Alexandria. A large number of those volunteers are city employees who dont actually live here. Volunteering gives them an opportunity to engage in another way. She added that the staff at the AVB has logged in more than 4,000 hours of volunteering, in addition to their regular work hours.

 With the current economic downturn this will be an incredibly challenging year for the business and not-for-profit organizations that depend on the generosity of others, said Patrician. Nonprofits are going to rely more and more on the generosity of others and the need is going to get greater.

One new program looking for volunteers is called Snow Buddy. This is a joint program sponsored by the AVB and the city of Alexandria.  Volunteers sign up to provide snow removal, leaf raking and lawn mowing assistance for Alexandria residents who are unable to do it themselves. They will be assigned a home in Alexandria where they would go to perform these services when they get the call to help.

There are so many ways to become involved where you can spend a few or many hours helping, depending on your availability. If you are interested in being a volunteer, start with the Volunteer Clearinghouse to see current volunteer opportunities and match your interests with the need.

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