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Helping Hands

Local charitable organizations work hand-in-hand with volunteers  of all ages and walks of life.unknown.gif

Last year, more than 250 agencies using 60,000-plus volunteers contributed more than $3.3 million worth of services in McHenry County, according to the McHenry County Volunteer Center (MCVC). That number will be even larger this year.

“We focus on building capacity of nonprofit organizations within McHenry County,” said Rebecca Stiemke, executive director of Nonprofit Resources, which manages the MCVC. These organizations range from small grassroots groups to nonprofits like Pioneer Center for Human Services, which is the largest organization of its kind providing services to more than 2,700 individuals.

The MCVC serves its nonprofit agencies in several ways, mainly by referring people to them who have expressed an interest in volunteering in the community.

Most of these potential volunteers contact the center through its website, while others simply call. “We’ll sit down with them either in person or over the phone to help them find a placement,” Stiemke said.

The center also has professional development programs to help nonprofit managers engage their volunteers to the best of their abilities. “One of our key roles in the community is to help agencies understand how to best manage their volunteers,” Stiemke said. “We don’t want any volunteer walking away from a situation because he or she is unhappy.”

Family Health Partnership Clinic

The mission of volunteer organizations in the county range widely. The Family Health Partnership Clinic (FHPC), for example, provides medical services to people in McHenry County who are uninsured or underinsured. In one spring month this year, the clinic had 750 patient visits, and that number continues to grow.

FHPC helps keep people out of emergency rooms. ERs today are too often being used because people cannot afford regular doctor visits. As a result, their illnesses become acute, creating an emergency situation that costs a lot more than if they had been treated along the way.

“We provide help that people can afford, thereby keeping up on their treatments,” said Kathy Rauch, volunteer coordinator at FHPC. “We rely on doctors who volunteer their time at our clinic. We also have great nurse practitioners and physician assistants that are willing to help us.

“We actively encourage our volunteers and patients to ask their doctors if they would be willing to volunteer at the clinic,” she added. “In addition to this, we have supporting partners. For example, Centegra Health System asks their doctors if they would be willing to volunteer at our clinic for a few hours a month.

“Because we get no state or federal funding, we are also very active in the fundraising arena and have many volunteers who help with these efforts. For example, the Care4 Breast Cancer 5K, which brought in $187,000 last fall, utilized more than 500 volunteers.”

Many volunteers are enthusiastic young people. “I love having high school and college kids in the clinic,” Rauch said. “I find them to have a wealth of energy and excitement.”

Faith in Action of McHenry County

Faith in Action connects volunteers with seniors who are living in their own homes, but need some support to help them maintain their independence and quality of life. You will find many young folks burning up excess energy by helping these seniors with chores. “We are very fortunate to have many young people in our community that are willing to help with yard cleanup or snow shoveling,” according to Susan McCoy, volunteer coordinator for Faith in Action.

Like FHPC, Faith in Action’s demand continues to grow. “We have requests for about 15,000 services annually,” she added. “Those requests came from about 800 seniors and were filled by just over 350 volunteers. The number of requests for services is growing every year very quickly. And our services are always free because they are supplied by the generous volunteers who donate their time to help seniors.”

Transportation tops the list of the organization’s requests for services, accounting for almost 60 percent of them. During the last 12 months, 216,000 miles were driven during more than 25,000 total volunteer hours.“These could be rides to a doctor appointment, shopping or to some life-enriching activity,” McCoy said. “We also offer friendly visits to people who might be living alone and need a time of cheer once in a while. In addition, nonmedical respite care, where we have a volunteer go into a home to relieve a full-time caregiver, is available.”

In addition to transportation and yard work, Faith in Action also provides friendly visits, help with shopping, durable medical equipment loans and donations.

Like other McHenry County agencies, Faith in Action has a very thorough screening process for prospective volunteers that includes criminal background and reference checks. McCoy also does an interview to find out the interests of the prospective volunteer to ensure his or her volunteer activities will be rewarding.

Does the process help? Dave Warren, who was a full-time caregiver for his wife Rosemary during her last years, thinks so. “Faith in Action extended my wife’s life,” he said. “I am a strong advocate of remaining in your own home, and their respite volunteers provided my wife with a chance to talk with someone different and offered stimulating reprieve from her routine caregiver. Every Saturday evening, a volunteer came and watched Rosemary while I went to church. Keeping my wife home extended and improved the quality of her life in many ways.”

McHenry County College

Volunteering is clearly a valued virtue of our community. Even McHenry County College (MCC) has a staff position titled “coordinator of service learning and volunteerism.”

The position was created to help coordinate the volunteer hours required of students for various scholarship programs and help make the time they spent meaningful to them and the community.

“Service learning is when we require or offer students the opportunity to include volunteer work as part of their curriculum,” said Emily Smith, who recently held the coordinator’s position. “Service learning involves working with faculty members to develop service projects which are directly related to the subject being taught and have students fulfill those volunteer opportunities. It requires a delicate balance between the concerns of teachers, their students and the community.”

Added Talia Koronkiewicz, coordinator of student life at MCC, “We have about 20 classes that include volunteerism in their programs. Some teachers make volunteer work [optional]. Others have volunteerism as an integral part of their curriculum. For example, Dawn Wagner teaches a marketing class during which students prepare marketing campaigns for nonprofit groups.”

MCC student organizations also initiate volunteer activities to benefit the community. For example, a number of student groups collect and distribute food prior to both Thanksgiving and Christmas. And every year, Latinos Unidos works with the Christmas Clearing House, which helps to gather food and presents for needy families.

Building a Bright Future

Sometimes the volunteer becomes a nonprofit’s success story. Rebecca Stiemke, executive director of Nonprofit Resources at McHenry County Volunteer Center, tells the story of a former volunteer from the corporate world who previously had been a carpenter and wanted to return to the building trades. He used volunteering to generate some referrals. Within three months, he was very busy because the organization to which the center had sent him was staffed with folks who needed a lot of carpentry work. In three months, the man was back on his feet doing what he loved due to his connections as a volunteer.

You Can Help – It’s EASY!

Once you start volunteering, you might quickly realize that you are getting much more out of your activities than you are giving, and you might well spend more time volunteering than you ever thought you had available. It’s easy to get started – here are some ways:

  • McHenry County Volunteer Center (www.volunteermchenrycounty.org, 815-344-4483) is a wonderful starting point in your search for the perfect charity or organization to support with your time and/or donations.
  • McHenry County Living’s “Good People, Great Events” section in every issue gives a look at upcoming charitable outings and opportunities in the county. From galas to golf outings, 5Ks to fashion shows, there is always something fun to do for a good cause!
  • In every Holiday issue (December/January) of McHenry County Living, the “Big Give” section spotlights every local charitable organization we know about with information on how you can get involved.

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