During my year serving as an AmeriCorps*VISTA with the Michigan Community Service Commission, I had the opportunity to see just how important national service funding can be to volunteer engagement in Michigan communities and the impact individuals can have in a community when brought together.
In the recent past, people have had to ask more and more of nonprofits in communities throughout Michigan to help provide social services like food resources, job training, medical care, and much more. Many times those nonprofits turn to volunteers to help meet those community needs. Through the support of national service programs like the Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) and AmeriCorps, organizations like volunteer centers (volunteer connector organizations established in communities to help place volunteers in local organizations) have been able to engage individuals in an intentional and productive way.
While serving as a VISTA, I helped support Michigan’s VGF grantees, who are part of the volunteer center network, implement a new volunteer management technology called HandsOn Connect. The technology has been extremely challenging for the volunteer centers and while supporting them, I saw them struggle to find the staff time to rollout their new system. But despite the difficulties of using HandsOn Connect the volunteer centers were able to see the capacity that the system was creating within their organization. HandsOn Connect allows the volunteer centers to recruit potential volunteers with greater success and help manage them throughout their time as a volunteer. The system also allows local partners of the volunteer center to find volunteers that are a good fit for their organization and bring much needed skills to volunteer positions.
One of the things that spending a year supporting the VGF grantees as a VISTA really impressed upon me is the lasting impact small investments of capacity building funds, like those that made HandsOn Connect possible, can make on local communities and their ability to serve one another. Given the right structure and knowledge, individuals can be called to service and address some of the most complicated and pressing challenges Michigan communities face.
The capacity built by funds made available through the VGF and the placement of AmeriCorps members in volunteer centers allows countless hours of volunteer service to be leveraged. In a practical sense, it gives volunteer centers the chance to improve their volunteer management practices, invest time in training nonprofit partners to use volunteers successfully, and host community service projects around National Days of Service that help to raise awareness of volunteerism and create a store of future volunteers. As a VISTA, I was able to see firsthand how National Service funding helps create the opportunity for local organizations to mobilize volunteers around critical community issues and start to use volunteer service as a strategy to make lasting change. It is a perspective and experience that was made possible by national service funding that allowed me to give a year of service and that experience will stay with me as I continue through my life.
Submitted by Chelsea Martin, Capacity Building and New Media Consultant, Volunteer Centers of Michigan
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