Nonprofit Spotlight: SAFE Haven for Cats

Gina Jennings had been saying she was going to volunteer for a while. For four years, actually. She thought about it, put it off, thought about it some more… until 2008, when she finally took the action to get involved.

With its proximity to her home, and Gina’s passion for cats, the nonprofit SAFE Haven for Cats was an obvious choice. SAFE Haven for Cats is a no-kill cat shelter with a mission to help stray cats through adoption, low cost spaying and neutering, and community outreach.

Upon starting to volunteer, Gina found herself surrounded by people with the same passion: Cats! “Volunteering at an animal shelter means that you’ll be surrounded by those that share at least one thing in common,” says Gina.

Cat at SAFE Have for CatsShe loved the experience, and the feeling that she was doing something worthwhile. She began to look forward to early weekend mornings, when she got to wake up and go to the shelter. She dreamed about leaving her long-time sales career to work for SAFE Haven for Cats full time, but saw the dream as just that – a dream.

However, the stars aligned in 2011 and her dream became a reality when she was asked to start working for SAFE Haven for Cats as paid staff. “I was in the right place at the right time doing the right thing!” says Gina. “Had I not followed through with my desire to volunteer who knows if my dream would have come true.”

Gina currently serves as the organization’s volunteer manager, where she uses VolunteerMatch to let potential volunteers know about SAFE Haven for Cats and how they can help.  “It’s an easy way to advertise in a concise way to target the right people,” says Gina.

Girl Volunteering at SAFE Haven for CatsAt SAFE Haven for Cats, volunteers help in every aspect of the organization.  The obvious needs are working directly with the cats to ensure that they have fresh water and clean.  But volunteers also socialize the cats, drive them to veterinarian specialists, adopt them into “furever” homes, and more. “Without our volunteers we would cease to exist,” says Gina. “They are the lifeblood of our organization.”

One volunteer that stands out to Gina is Janet Hensel. Janet has been with SAFE Haven for Cats since 1998, and according to Gina, she does the work of six volunteers. “Even though we have many younger volunteers, nobody can outwork Janet,” says Gina.

For Janet, no job is too big, too small too messy, or too smelly. She has been cleaning every litter box in the shelter for 17 years. Janet also leads the organization’s Pet Food Pantry and Fill A Truck events, loads and unloads thousands of pounds of cat litter, drives to rescue cats from other shelters (no matter what time of night!), fosters cats in her own home, and more. This is all in addition to a full time job.

At one point, Janet was hospitalized and wasn’t expected to live. But by some miracle she recovered, and two weeks out of the hospital was back washing 100 litter boxes. “Janet is a blessing to this world and everyone she meets,” says Gina.

In addition to Janet, Gina works with (and loves working with!) all kinds of exceptional people. “They are the ones that make the difference,” says Gina. “Many of these volunteers are my friends, teachers, and inspiration.  I have tremendous respect for our volunteers.”

“After almost 4 years of working at SAFE Haven for Cats, I am just as passionate as the day I started,” reflects Gina. I’m where I was meant to be. Where are you meant to be?”

Your story can help inspire others to get involved! VolunteerMatch keeps a database of stories about volunteering to help illustrate the challenges and successes of nonprofits. How have volunteers helped you? What role has VolunteerMatch played? Share your story!

A Match Made in St. Louis: Fighting Hunger One Voice at a Time

By Kori Reed, Vice President, Cause and Foundation, at ConAgra Foods.

Rajan Taylor Volunteers with St. Louis Area Foodbank

ConAgra employee Rajan Taylor volunteering at the St. Louis Area Foodbank.

I am a child of the 80s whose mom played Barry Manilow’s albums throughout my formative years. So, what does this have to do with Volunteer Month?

Rajan Taylor, a security contractor at the ConAgra Foods’ St. Louis office, makes me want to break out into song. Specifically, Manilow’s One Voice, which he also performed at the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Concert. It’s inspired by the idea that if one person stands up for what he believes in, the rest will follow.

Rajan read about ConAgra Foods’ long-standing commitment to take action against child hunger and that generated an idea. He’ll humbly tell you he simply called a few friends and sent an email, but he ultimately sparked the largest, single-day, citywide food drive in history to benefit the St. Louis Area Foodbank – a member of the Feeding America network. He called the event, held on March 20, 2015, “Spring into Giving,” which is an appropriate phrase to describe his actions to engage more than 75 St. Louis companies to raise more than 50,000 lbs. of food, or rather more than 40,000 meals in one day….

Read the rest of Rajan’s story.

Remembering Jill Friedman Fixler: a Friend and Mentor

Remembering Jill Friedman FixlerWhen I joined VolunteerMatch in 2007 it was to help prepare organizations to better engage the time and talents of the wave of Baby Boomers who were beginning to retire. One of the people leading that conversation and creating those tools was Jill Friedman Fixler.

Based in Denver, Jill was part of a very active group working to support volunteer engagement professionals and expand the capacity of organizations to engage volunteers in meaningful work. Sarah Christian, VolunteerMatch’s then Director of Strategic Partnerships, was also part of that Denver group and introduced me to Jill, and Jill to VolunteerMatch.

During that same time, Jill was working on the book Boomer Volunteer Engagement: Collaborate Today, Thrive Tomorrow. A natural partnership emerged and we partnered with Jill and The JFFixler Group to publish both the initial book and the follow-up Facilitator’s Toolkit.

From the beginning, I found Jill to be a kindred soul. We discussed volunteer engagement and nonprofit capacity development, but we also talked about books, and family, and the challenges of traveling for work, over delicious meals and glasses of wine. (She told me about disinfecting the remote control in your hotel room, which was both revolutionary and revolting to me.)

We discussed big ideas, co-presented at conferences, and would catch up in the 20 minutes prior to the webinars she would do each month. She was an inspiration, a sounding board, a cheerleader, and a friend.

When she retired in 2013, while I knew she was taking a step back from the field, I also knew that her ideas, her love of big thinking, and her commitment to excellence in volunteer engagement would live on – through the company she started, her partner Beth Steinhorn (who continues to lead webinars on our Learning Center, and has two great sessions coming up on engaging family volunteers and leveraging volunteer talent for organizational change), and through all of those in this field, like me, for whom she led the way and inspired us to use our time and talents to engage volunteers in meaningful work.

Last November Jill passed away, surrounded by friends and family. Jill Friedman Fixler – you will be missed.

In honor of Jill’s contribution to the field, VolunteerMatch and The JFFixler Group will donate sets of the Boomer Volunteer Engagement series for your capacity building events. If you’re interested, please email

The Unconditional Love of Volunteers

Rakhma Homes VolunteersLindsey Fossum witnessed the trauma of memory loss firsthand with her grandfather. At the time, she had no idea that this difficult experience would ultimately lead her to a career working with people with Alzheimer’s Disease and various forms of dementia.

Yet it did, and Lindsey found herself at Rakhma Homes in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Rakhma Homes, a nonprofit, provides a safe home for those affected by Alzheimer’s-Dementia.

“I envisioned a home like this for my grandfather,” Lindsey says about Rakhma Homes. “A warm, friendly home – Rakhma has actual homes, not nursing homes – with loving staff for their residents.”

What Lindsey means is that Rakhma’s homes are in residential neighborhoods and are similar to the houses many of the residents grew up in. Rakhma currently has three homes, where residents come together for three meals a day (family style), cultural outings such as trips to the theatre, and in-home activities such as tai chi (pictured below).

Because of limited resources, Rakhma residents do tai chi with volunteers.Rakhma Homes relies heavily on volunteers. Some escort Rakhma residents on community outings, such as pushing their wheelchairs through an apple orchard or through a museum. Others conduct workshops, which include musical therapy, pet therapy, and worship. Still others help with meals and cleaning, and give manicures to the lady residents.

Read more about Rakhma Homes’ wonderful volunteers.

14 Engaging Volunteers Posts That Ruled 2014

It's almost time to drink champagne and welcome in a new year. What were the most popular posts of 2014?It’s been a long, exciting year for volunteer engagement, and hopefully a successful, meaningful one for you and your volunteer program. To make sure you didn’t miss anything important, let’s review the 14 most popular blog posts published on Engaging Volunteers this year:

14. VolunteerMatch Now Connects Nonprofits Directly to 300 Million Skilled Volunteers

13. The Chicken, the Egg, Volunteering, and Employment

Children volunteering in a garden.12. What I Learned from Volunteering

11. The Volunteer as Brand Ambassador

10. Fighting Hunger Together, We Really Made a Difference

9. Here’s How You Measure Volunteer Impact

8. Creative, Fun and Easy Ways to Engage Skilled Volunteers

Some of our favorite and most popular blog posts from 2014. And a girl snorkling.7. Connect to Who Your Volunteers REALLY Are

6. Walking the Talk of Ethics

5. The Pros and Cons of Engaging Young Volunteers

4. How to Get the Most Out of Your Words

3. Best Practices: Thanking Volunteers Using Online Surveys

2. Summer + Teens + Volunteering = A Combination Not to Be Ignored

1. People Make the Difference: Matching Volunteer Interests to Nonprofit Needs

Here’s to a 2015 that blows 2014 out of the water!