September 8, 2012 6:25:39 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Leslie Thomas Peel has only been on the job about seven weeks, but the new coordinator of the United Way Community Volunteer Center in Lowndes County is already playing matchmaker.
Her goal? To put willing volunteers together with the nonprofit agencies and community projects that need them.
The challenge? Too many people aren't aware the Volunteer Center exists.
The center links volunteers with agencies in need of their time and skills. It also promotes volunteer opportunities in the community through its website and by speaking to various groups about volunteer opportunities.
"I try to assist all United Way agencies and any nonprofit agencies in Lowndes County," Peel said. "We want everyone to know that if they're wanting to get plugged into the community, this is a great place to start."
Peel is highlighting several innovative tools to ramp up awareness and participation.
An updated interactive website acts as a central exchange of information between organizations and the public. And it's not only about volunteer opportunities.
"Agencies can post their immediate needs on the site, and then individuals, a church, a student pilot group, a Sunday School class, Girl Scout troop -- any of them -- will be able to go to our site and see what those needs are," the Columbus native and active mother of two explained.
Currently, Sally Kate Winters Family Services, for example, lists a need for paper products and personal hygiene items. Other organizations may need office supplies, canned goods or kitchen items. The site helps spread the word.
Another effective site application allows community members to post items they want to donate to a nonprofit.
"It might be books, clothing, linens, anything; you'll be able to list that," remarked Jan Ballard, executive director of the United Way of Lowndes County. Agencies then can view the lists.
Peel emphasized that the center exists to benefit all nonprofits that serve the community at large, whether they are United Way agencies or not.
"It could be the American Cancer Association, United Blood Services, the library, civic clubs," she said. "Even if they don't have a current volunteer need, this could be one more place they could get the information out there about what they do and list a contact."
While users at the website aren't required to register, registration allows access to more information. And volunteers who need to document their service hours are able to do so on the site
A meatier presence on Facebook and Twitter for the Volunteer Center will help speed up communication of volunteer opportunities.
Ballard pointed out, "If you don't have time to go by the site frequently, Facebook can let you see at a glance if it's a project you are interested in and can do."
Peel, of course, is also available by phone to match volunteers to projects that best suit their abilities, time and interests.
Day of Service
The new coordinator's most immediate project is a Sept. 11 Day of Service, during which local businesses send teams to work at various nonprofit agencies. A larger community-wide service day is set for January.
Peel's years of personal service in organizations like Junior Auxiliary of Columbus, Build Lee Park, Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen and Kids with Character have set the stage for this new role, which is one she relishes. She sees no end to the opportunities for mobilizing people and changing communities.
Learn more about the Community Volunteer Center by visiting unitedwaylowndescounty.org and clicking on the Volunteer link. Or email [email protected], or call 662-328-0943. Follow the center on their Facebook page, titled Volunteer Columbus, or on Twitter @comevolunteer.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.