How Young Folks are Learning to Repair the World through Volunteer Engagement

Editor’s note: This post is about a program run by our friends at Repair the World. It’s a very cool example of how we can begin early to get the next generation involved in the important work of volunteer engagement. We hope you’re inspired by it, like we are!

Apply for the Repair the World FellowshipThe Repair the World Fellowship is a 10-month opportunity for young adults ages 21 to 26 who are committed to mobilizing the Jewish community toward meaningful volunteer projects. Fellows will recruit, train, and serve alongside volunteers to bring about real community change around a range of issues, including education, poverty, sustainability, and more. The Fellowship provides training, a living stipend, health insurance, housing, and other perks. Also, Repair the World is now accepting applications for the 2014-2015 Fellowship, so spread the word!

Want to hear about this innovative program from someone who actually experienced it? Here’s an interview with Repair the World Fellow Leah Silver:

1. What inspired you to apply as a Repair the World Fellow?

Interview with Leah Silver, Repair the World fellow in PhiladelphiaIn my freshman year of college, I felt largely disconnected from the community I had just entered on the campus of Dickinson College. It wasn’t until I became active in my campus Hillel and started volunteering through the Office of Community Service that I found my true niche and desired community. During my winter break, I participated in a service trip to northern Guatemala to help build a school in an impoverished area. Aside from the incredible work we were doing, the people that participated with me made the opportunity the life-changing experience that it was.

I spent the remainder of my undergraduate career creating service opportunities for other students to spend their breaks helping communities in need, both domestically and abroad. This experience helped me understand what I truly valued and needed in my life–Judaism and community service.

As a senior, I received an email from my Hillel Director about the Repair the World Fellowship. I saw it as an incredible opportunity to fuse my love of Judaism and tikkun olam together in one program. Today, I am so grateful to be a founding member of the Repair the World Fellowship…the launchepreneurs!

2. Can you share a great moment from your work that exemplifies the change you’re looking to make?

One of the organizations I am working with is the Germantown Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia. I’ve been working closely with 6 and 7 year old girls to prepare myself to develop programming that helps young girls build self-esteem, learn conflict resolution and build community. These girls are incredibly sweet and resilient individuals.

During my second week, a little girl came up to me and handed me a brightly colored bracelet. She said, “Thank you Miss Leah for helping me with my math homework. I learned something new today and want you to have this bracelet!” Even though this was a tiny gesture, it meant more to me than I think that little girl will ever know. To hear that what I am doing is in fact making a difference in someone’s life is so important and meaningful to me. I keep that green bracelet on my nightstand to remind myself why I am doing this and why I’m here.

3. What has been the greatest challenge in this position?

The greatest challenge so far has been coming into a community that isn’t my own with the purpose of empowering its members to create positive change. At first, I struggled with the concept of “who am I to come into Philadelphia, a community that I am unfamiliar with, to address the many challenges the city is currently facing? How can I relate to community members as an outsider?”

As time passes, I am starting to feel part of this community and I recognize that these challenges affect not only the city of Philadelphia, but the well-being of the world, and I am a part of that world.

As a young Jewish leader in the field of service, the power to create positive change and social equality starts with the people who are passionate about those issues and who are interested in making a difference. I am surrounded by a class of my peers, my fellow Fellows, who are just that – people who care about making a difference and about doing something meaningful with their lives.

4. How has Repair supported your personal and professional growth?

Repair the World is helping me to foster my leadership skills and, at the same time, to appreciate the leadership styles and skills of others. We’re all movers and shakers. And we each have different skills and abilities that are making this an environment in which we can all be successful. My fellow Fellows are teaching me an incredible amount about myself and I am so grateful to have them by my side throughout this experience.

In speaking with fellows placed in our other cities (Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Detroit), it is clear that the Repair the World Fellowship is in fact fostering the next generation of leaders in the Jewish nonprofit world. I’ve learned so much so far, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year has in store for my fellow Fellows and me!

Hailing from Durham, NC, Leah Silver is a recent graduate of Dickinson College with a B.A. in American Studies. Throughout her time at Dickinson, Leah was very active in Jewish Life as well as worked closely with the Office of Community Service on campus to organize and lead service trip opportunities for students. In her junior year, Leah spent a semester abroad in Hyderabad, India focusing on poverty studies and volunteering at an orphanage for children affected by HIV/AIDS. She loves to travel, be outdoors, cook, meet new people and do service!

Love Leah’s story? Want to get involved? The Repair the World Fellowship is now accepting applications! Check it out, share with family, friends, colleagues and volunteers, and apply today.

Brief Interviews with Volunteer Coordinators: St. James Food Pantry Edition

Volunteers at St. James Food Pantry

A group of volunteers from helps out at St. James Food Pantry.

Editor’s Note: Adam Alley, our amazing Senior Associate of Community Support, has taken the opportunity of December’s special focus on fighting hunger to get up close and personal with some of the hunger-related organizations that have recruited the most volunteers using VolunteerMatch.

Read the interviews in this series to be inspired and to learn from some of the most successful nonprofits in the network.

Interview with Ted Kain, Social Care Volunteer Coordinator at the St. James Food Pantry.

Adam: Why is fighting hunger important to you?

Ted: There is such a great need in our community, let alone our world, for people to be fed. There are so many myths about hunger that it’s been incredibly educational for me to learn how many people are hungry in our neighborhood. St. James Food Pantry is blessed to provide this service in order to try to help our community.

Adam: How has VolunteerMatch helped you engage volunteers to fight hunger?

Ted: VolunteerMatch has been very helpful in promoting our service. We’ve been fortunate to meet individuals and groups who want to contribute to our mission. VolunteerMatch has provided another outlet for St. James Food Pantry to invite our neighbors to give back and help those in need. The work of volunteers helps us exponentially – we’re extremely grateful and inspired by the volunteers who donate their time and talent with us.

Adam: What’s the most challenging aspect of your role? What’s the most rewarding?

Ted: It can be difficult to hear stories of difficult circumstances and situations our clients may be facing. There’s only so much we can provide to our clients, but it’s hard not to be able to do even more after meeting clients each day who struggle to get by.

The most rewarding aspect of my job is receiving a genuine thank you or smile after providing our service. Our clients understand the effort put forth by our volunteers and staff to make our food pantry a success. To bring happiness, comfort and respect through simple acts of kindness brightens my day tremendously.

Adam: What do you love about your work?

Ted: I love working with staff and volunteers who care passionately and seriously about the service we provide. I’m exposed to great generosity every day. The contributions people make through time, talent, donations and respect is humbling to lay witness to. I’m thankful to work with those who give in any way they can. Some people may not have a lot to give, but they give what they’re able to. I find that to be an inspiration for how to live life daily. One doesn’t have to possess the most resources to make an incredible impact on a community.

Brief Interviews with Volunteer Coordinators: Citymeals-on-Wheels Edition

A Citymeals-on-Wheels volunteer in action.

A Citymeals-on-Wheels volunteer in action.

Editor’s Note: Adam Alley, our amazing Senior Associate of Community Support, has taken the opportunity of December’s special focus on fighting hunger to get up close and personal with some of the hunger-related organizations that have recruited the most volunteers using VolunteerMatch.

Read the interviews in this series to be inspired and to learn from some of the most successful nonprofits in the network.

Interview with Vivienne O’Neill, Citymeals Director of Volunteer Programs.

Adam: Why is fighting hunger important to you?

Vivienne: Fighting hunger is important to me because it’s a problem that causes such unimaginable human suffering. Over 800 million people throughout the world are hungry. Currently, it is the largest global health crisis. Hunger not only happens around the world, but also right in our own backyard.

Adam: How does your organization fight hunger?

Vivienne: Citymeals fights hunger by providing meals to frail, homebound elderly. We have a team of dedicated staff and volunteers that deliver meals and provide nourishment for our neighbors in New York City.

Adam: You’ve been particularly successful at recruiting volunteers for your cause – do you have any suggestions for fellow organizations looking to emulate your success?

Vivienne: I dedicate a lot of my success to communicating well. I let people know when I need help. You also have to be in the loop about what’s going on out there, so it’s important to focus on communicating in both directions.

Adam: How has VolunteerMatch helped you engage volunteers to fight hunger?

Vivienne: VolunteerMatch has provided referrals for volunteers that deliver meals and prevent hunger from striking New York City’s seniors.

Adam: How do you show your appreciation for your volunteers?

Vivienne: Although we have over 12,200 volunteers, we try to say thank you in a personalized way. Whether it be sending a card for their wedding anniversary or reaching out by phone to check on them when they’re under the weather, we try to stay as connected as possible to our volunteers’ lives to let them know how much we value their work.

Adam: What’s the most challenging aspect of your role? The most rewarding?

Vivienne: The most challenging aspect of my role is finding work for all of our volunteers; I hate turning them away. The most rewarding aspect of my role is seeing the impact that our volunteers have on our meal recipients and vice versa. It’s very humbling to see how everybody benefits from the work we do.

Adam: If you could give one piece of advice to a fellow organization hoping to join the fight against hunger, what would you say?

Vivienne: Roll up your sleeves and get ready to work. Fighting hunger helps build a safer and more secure world, but it’s not an easy task.

Brief Interviews with Volunteer Coordinators: West Valley Community Services Edition

Volunteers fighting hunger with West Valley Community ServicesEditor’s Note: Adam Alley, our amazing Senior Associate of Community Support, has taken the opportunity of December’s special focus on fighting hunger to get up close and personal with some of the hunger-related organizations that have recruited the most volunteers using VolunteerMatch.

Read the interviews in this series to be inspired and to learn from some of the most successful nonprofits in the network.

Interview with Danielle Lynch, Volunteer Program Manager at West Valley Community Services

Adam: You’ve been particularly successful at recruiting volunteers for your cause – do you have any suggestions for fellow organizations looking to emulate your success?

Danielle: My best advice would be to know what your volunteer opportunities are and who to reach out to for each volunteer need. At WVCS, we have many opportunities, all very diverse.

From weekly recurring receptionist and food pantry positions to one-time special event and group projects, we have a wide range of positions suitable to different members of our community, whether that decision is based on an individual’s interests, schedules, or skills. It is important to know what each position requires so that you can convey those responsibilities and effectively target and reach out to different members of your community.

Adam: How has VolunteerMatch helped you engage volunteers to fight hunger?

Danielle: VolunteerMatch has been a crucial part of our volunteer engagement strategy. Being able to recruit for each individual position through VolunteerMatch’s large community of givers has been enormously successful.

We are able to differentiate between each volunteer need, identifying key responsibilities and requirements, and potential volunteers are able to filter postings specific to their interests and needs. Having the opportunity to be a part of the VolunteerMatch community has enlarged our volunteer base, and helped us recruit for passionate and skilled volunteers who make WVCS so successful!

Adam: How do you show your appreciation for your volunteers?

Danielle: We are so thankful and grateful for our amazing volunteers at WVCS. Over 500 volunteers participate in WVCS activities every year – clocking in an astounding 16,000 hours – enabling us to provide crucial services to those in need in our community.

To show our faithful volunteers how grateful we are for everything they do, we tell them just that every day. In addition, thank you emails and letters, as well as recognition in our monthly Volunteer Newsletter, are important reminders of just how appreciative we are for their selfless acts. We also host an annual Volunteer Appreciation Ceremony, in which we invite all our volunteers for a dinner full of games, prizes, awards, and personal commendations from staff.

Volunteering at WVCS is not easy, from picking up hundreds of pounds of food at 8am in the pouring rain to translating between clients and case managers during meetings, being a WVCS volunteer is not a walk in the park. It is important for us to make sure that every single one of our volunteers feels our appreciation and gratitude for all the work they do to serve those in need in our community.

Adam: What’s the most challenging aspect of your role? The most rewarding?

Danielle: The most challenging aspect of my role at WVCS is managing our large volunteer force. The sheer volume of our volunteers, over 125 every week, warrants applause for our amazing community. Daily scheduling is a large task, but we are never lacking in interested volunteers, a testament to our giving community and the help of VolunteerMatch!

Another challenge of ours is getting supplies for our group volunteers to complete big projects. Although we are always in need, and our community is always reaching out to us wanting to help, it has been difficult to secure supplies such as paint, paint brushes, rakes, etc., for our volunteers to complete the work needed.

The most rewarding part of my job is interacting with our amazing volunteers. These individuals selflessly give us not only their time and energy, but their spirit. Speaking with our volunteers and watching them interact with our clients, it is impossible to miss their passion for our cause and their desire to help those in need. It is a heartwarming thing to witness, and makes me that much more thrilled to come to work each day.

Fighting Senior Hunger In Delaware: An Interview With Meals On Wheels DE

Our Fight Hunger Photo Contest asked nonprofits to submit a photo that visually narrated how they contribute to hunger relief in their community, accompanied by a short description. We’d like to thank every nonprofit that took the time to share their story with us. Every single entry was inspiring, touching and most importantly, a call to action for people everywhere to make a difference.

We are excited to announce that Meals On Wheels DE is the lucky winner of our contest! Meals on Wheels DE is specifically focused on fighting senior hunger in Delaware. Senior hunger is a growing problem in America. In fact, according a study conducted by Oregon State University, seniors with limited physical mobility were five times more likely to suffer from food insufficiency than their abled peers.

Cassandra Boyce, Marketing and PR Director at Meals On Wheels DE, spoke with us about recruiting volunteers, fighting hunger and recognizing outstanding volunteers.

Q: What does hunger look in Delaware?

A: Hunger has many faces in a small state like Delaware and financial restrictions aren’t the only limitations to receiving nutrients. Many of the seniors we serve have physical or age-related conditions that restrict their ability to shop or cook for themselves—Meals On Wheels is their only option.

Meals On Wheels Delaware (MOWD) is a nonprofit organization working with five meal-providing agencies and thousands of volunteers to feed hungry, homebound seniors throughout the State of Delaware. Through various fundraising events and direct mail campaigns during the year, MOWD is able to raise private funds to disperse to the participating agencies. Our organization is truly volunteer drive—without the help of hundreds of volunteers we would not be able to reach the thousands of seniors we deliver to on a daily basis.

Q: How does Meals On Wheels DE fight hunger?

A: MOWD ensures no senior is placed on a waiting list to receive a hot, nutritious meal daily—this is something few states can say they’ve accomplished. As federal funding often runs out half way through the year and organizations are often unable to meet the need, MOWD steps in to provide hot meals to the elderly community. MOWD serves nearly 4,000 homebound seniors throughout the State of Delaware. In fact, last year our dedicated volunteers delivered over 600,000 meals.

Q: What makes Meals on Wheels different from other hunger relief organizations? A: Alternatives for our seniors are few; due to ill health, lack of resources, or age-related conditions they are unable to shop or prepare food for themselves. Consistent meal deliveries provide more than basic comfort – nutritious meals sustain their physical strength, while our dedicated volunteers bring hope for their hearts. More often than not MOWD volunteers are the only interaction our seniors have all day; these small interactions at times can mean more than the nutritional sustenance the volunteer delivers.

Q:What would you say is the key to recruiting and maintaining dedicated volunteers?

A: Finding the right fit for each volunteer is important. Giving them an opportunity to enjoy using their talents and skills to make a difference in our community is the best way to keep people coming back. Some of our most dedicated volunteers are those who have a personal connection with the cause. Perhaps a friend or family member received services from Meals On Wheels in the past and were inspired to do the same for others in their community. We also have wonderful volunteers from Delaware’s strong community of businesses and organizations that support our fundraising events as well as volunteers to deliver meals each week. And many of our volunteers see the importance and value in the way we treat seniors in their most sincere time of need.

Q: How are volunteers recognized for their work?

A: We make sure all our event volunteers receive a personal thank you for the time and effort they put into making our fundraising events such a success. In addition, each year around the holidays we send a small token of our appreciation to the volunteer drivers throughout the state a gas card, as most volunteers pay for their own gas throughout the year. We also keep key volunteers up to date with news from Meals On Wheels and involve them in the planning early on—keeping their involvement high allows volunteers to be the driving force behind our mission.

Learn more about Meals on Wheels DE here.

Check out our Fight Hunger Photo Contest album on Facebook.

How is your nonprofit fighting hunger?