United Way of Northwest Michigan is proud to join in the National Volunteer Week celebration April 19-23. Despite the worldwide pandemic, our community volunteers have been raising their hands, showing up to do the work and supporting their neighbors this year.
In the past three months alone, our volunteers have logged more than 1,600 hours or more than 60 days of volunteering to staff the Grand Traverse Health Department Vaccination Clinic and pass out KN95 masks to our surrounding counties, during which we distributed more than 100,000 masks to seniors, at-risk and other community members in partnership with Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Michigan.
As an organization we have found creative ways to pivot, that keep our volunteers engaged but also consider their health and safety. As we transition into spring, many of the outdoor options open, offering the opportunity to socially distance and venture outside our homes.
Here are four ways you can get involved this week (and any week) to celebrate volunteerism:
- Get Connected, our volunteer portal, has 27 area nonprofits that post any of their volunteer needs in one spot. The site is free to use, gives you more information about each agency and allows you to sign up for opportunities (https://unitedwaynwmi.galaxydigital.com/). You can track your volunteer hours and view all of your commitments on one calendar. You can even indicate your areas of interest (education, medical, food prep, etc.) and you’ll get an email as soon as a need is posted matching that interest.
- Reach out to your favorite nonprofit that is not on our list. Ask if they need help walking dogs, packing literacy resources for kids or picking up items for donation. Many nonprofits that closed at the beginning of the pandemic are starting to operate again and need help reconnecting with volunteers.
- If you find yourself unemployed or underemployed, AmeriCorps VISTA is a volunteer program focusing on reducing poverty nationwide, pays a monthly stipend and offers an education award at the end of a one-year term of service. If you are 18 or older and interested, you can learn more at https://www.unitedwaynwmi.org/americorps-vista. Current VISTAs (Volunteers In Service To America) are working on projects that impact you throughout the community including Addiction Treatment Services, Habitat for Humanity and Newton’s Road. There is also a shorter six-week summer service tailored for college students.
- Volunteering doesn’t always have to involve leaving the house. Our Get Connected site has many virtual volunteering options that can be done remotely. These involve letter writing to front-line workers, who are still risking their lives every day for our community, and letters to isolated seniors. You can also donate clothes and household goods that are sitting unused. You can walk your neighborhood and pick up litter you see. Any small activity can have a big impact for your community.
This week we are celebrating you, for every big and small act you do to engage and improve your community. We are thriving because of you. Thank you.
About the author: Seth Johnson is the president of United Way of Northwest Michigan.