Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr +

 Impacting Communities and the World

By Keasha Lee, Contributing Writer

The act of helping others by providing support, ensuring needs are met, and being willing and available to change someone’s life for the better with no monetary exchange for your time is essentially the definition of volunteerism. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 64.3 million people volunteered through or for an organization between September 2010 and September 2011.

VPW_LOGOPrince William County boasts a number of organizations that, without the assistance of volunteers, might not otherwise be able to consistently provide successful programs and services to the community. “Non-profits could not do their work without volunteers,” said Mary Foley, executive director of Volunteer Prince William. As the director of an organization that specializes in connecting individuals who want to volunteer with organizations in need of them, Foley knows firsthand how important volunteerism is to Prince William County communities.

For 30 years, Volunteer Prince William has played an important role in keeping people connected. It serves as the first point between a prospective volunteer and an establishment where a relationship could form that will positively impact everyone involved. “We connect about 40,000 volunteers in a year,” Foley said. “More than 2,000 people are registered to receive alerts from us on needs for volunteers throughout the county.”

During the 150th commemoration weekend for the Battle of First Manassas/Bull Run Battlefield Park in July 2011, Volunteer Prince William was called upon to provide volunteers for Discover Prince William & Manassas. “We reached out to Volunteer Prince William for help and had more than 350 volunteers who helped out at the re-enactment,” said Ann Marie Maher, executive director of Discover Prince William & Manassas. According to Maher, from a tourism perspective, volunteers for the event served as “ambassadors for Manassas and Prince William County [because]they had face-to-face contact with people from around the world to provide them with information about the area, give directions, or to provide them with refreshments.” Volunteers are also used on a regular basis by Discover Prince William to work at the front desk in the Visitor Center located in Historic Occoquan. Student interns from George Mason University take on roles in a variety of places there, from data entry and updating the website, to outreach. The volunteer interns receive college credits while at the same time gaining invaluable hands-on exposure in tourism and event management.

The Many Faces of Volunteers

The beauty of volunteerism is that all are welcome to join in the fun and choosing the volunteer activity that best fits one’s skills sets and desires is the topping on the proverbial cake. Volunteering often gives people of different ages, ethnicities and educational backgrounds an opportunity to work side by side with a common goal to help those who are in need.

Sometimes, those who are considered to be in need because of certain disabilities can give their own contributions to society through volunteering. The Arc of Greater Prince William has served the community for more than 48 years with a purpose to provide programs and services for individuals with developmental disabilities and support their families and caregivers.
arc“Folks with disabilities want to live like you and I [and]that’s one of our goals,” said Chris Caseman, director of development for The Arc. Some of the people that The Arc assists have learned to answer phones, participate with other organizations like Meals on Wheels, and use their creativity to make handmade gifts, blankets, or fashion accessories at SPINAWEB, a specialty weaving shop, operated by The Arc, in the heart of Historic Occoquan.

There are 40 volunteers who help the The Arc’s recreation department, and 125 events and programs that they plan and coordinate each year. Local high school students partner with The Arc to assist with their bowling program and very popular Valentine’s dance. There are also areas where volunteers are needed on more of a long-term basis to serve as decision makers regarding healthcare and planning for the future. “We’re seeking more volunteers who are willing to dedicate one year to a lifelong relationship with our friends,” Caseman said.

Volunteers who have responsibilities that pertain to the welfare of The Arc residents and participants must undergo a thorough screening and training process. “Our volunteers go through the same training as employees,” said Susan Rudolph, deputy director of The Arc.

Caseman added, “We want people to celebrate the lives that we take joy in knowing. They need us and we need them because we are family.”

The Arc offers services to individuals ranging in age from three months to 75 years, and has 10 group homes, two day care centers and a main location that can no longer comfortably accommodate its growing staff and the need for services. Construction is currently underway on a 13,800-square-foot addition that will provide more space for therapies, child care facilities and staff offices; completion is scheduled for December 2013.

With a new building and plenty of space to provide more service options for The Arc community, there is hope that volunteers will help with the many programs they have to offer. “By working with people with disabilities, your perception on life and the world changes,” said Rudolph. “Volunteerism is the biggest way to make a difference.”

Demonstrating ACTS of Kindness

Tom Benjamin, director of development for Action in Community Through Service (ACTS), can attest to the fact that volunteers Acts-Logo2
provide a great, intangible value to organizations. “An organization like us would not be able to touch as many people without the diversity, talents and skills of our volunteers,” Benjamin said. ACTS assists those enduring such hard times such as homelessness, domestic abuse, and unemployment.

“There’s such a variety of programs that it’s easy for a volunteer to find a niche,” said Rebekah McGee, ACTS deputy director. A volunteer application is given to prospective ACTS volunteers, allowing them to divulge their interests and skills. ACTS representatives later follow up with interested individuals, and match volunteers with programs of interest to them.

One of ACTS’ most recognized programs is its food pantry, which has drawn assistance from the same volunteers for years. “We have volunteers who first come when they’re young and grow up to bring their own families, said McGee. “It’s fun to see it [volunteerism]go from generation to generation.”

Sometimes, people who once received donated goods return as volunteers themselves, wanting to give back and help others who are in a situation that they once experienced for themselves. This reality speaks to the fact that we are all connected in some way and that hardships can affect us all.

“It’s important to understand we’re all part of a community,” said Benjamin. ACTS has between 80 and 90 people on staff and more than 3,200 volunteers. “Our volunteers bring a fresh perspective, new ideas, and solutions to the organization,” he said. “The volunteers excite our staff to do their jobs even better.”

Each program at ACTS has its own training requirements. Volunteers interested in working at the Helpline, a 24-hour and seven-days–a-week crisis hotline serving Prince William County and Greater Manassas and, most recently, Richmond, Va., must undergo 40 hours of training, followed by an apprenticeship. There are even programs that allow volunteers to go on site after a suicide has occurred to counsel family members.

“The great thing about ACTS is that internally we have a continuum of services and resources for people so that they don’t have to go to six different places for help, and that’s wonderful,” said McGee.

In 2011, ACTS was able to provide services to 77,000 people within the community—a huge achievement for the organization. With such great successes it’s important for volunteers to understand and appreciate their value. “The worst thing for me to hear a volunteer say is, ‘I’m only a volunteer,’ said McGee. “I want to hear more of ‘I’m important, I make a difference, I matter,’ because it’s true.”

From the Mouths of Volunteers

Ed Roman, a resident of Rollingwood Village, has been a volunteer since 1999, putting in more than 12,000 volunteer hours for PWC Police Department. He is a lead volunteer responsible for overseeing the activities of three other volunteers and has responsibilities that range from administrative work, to patrol car washing, to training recruits. One of the benefits of volunteering for Roman includes living a longer life. “Giving back to the county after all the county has done for seniors feels good,” he said. “I receive great fulfillment knowing what police officers do in the street and knowing how I help them.”

During the sniper attacks of 2002 that followed closely on the heels of 9/11, Roman provided his support by volunteering for hours with the PD. His advice regarding volunteering: “Anytime you can volunteer, do it, because you can’t let the world pass you by. It’s a wonderful life.”

Manassas City resident Al Osborne has been a volunteer with Meals on Wheels for more than 10 years. He picks up prepared meals at the Senior Center in Manassas City and delivers them to five to 10 people once a week. “Volunteering keeps me off the streets,” he said. “It’s also nice to meet people and I have to get out rain or shine.” The weather doesn’t bother Osborne; he’s on the verge of starting two more volunteer opportunities with the park authority and as a mentor to community college students. “It’s a pleasure to do this work, it isn’t hard, it helps the community, and it’s something to feel good about,” he said.

Volunteering can be done by one person or by many thoughtful, giving, and committed people willing to make things happen until change for the better occurs. Sometimes it’s a long road to see the larger changes, but as long as there is fun, faith, and people to help keep things moving, nothing is out of reach. Volunteers can be found throughout the community, in hospitals, schools, libraries, places of worship, recreational groups, and within police and fire departments. They help our communities to thrive. So go ahead and give volunteering a try—you may discover talents and develop friendships that will change your life forever.

Keasha Lee is a public relations professional, writer, and actress. She resides in Woodbridge. 


Leave A Reply