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SOURCE United Way of North Central Florida
New online volunteer database, Volunteer Select, introduced by United Way of North Central Florida
GAINESVILLE, Fla., March 18, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- United Way of North Central Florida announced today the launch of Volunteer Select, its new volunteer online match system. Volunteerism is part of United Way's core mission as articulated in its tagline GIVE.ADVOCATE.VOLUNTEER.
The new online volunteer system provides three critically necessary and powerful functions:
"We are so pleased to be able to provide this new, upgraded service to our community and we are grateful for the terrific input we received from local nonprofit leaders this past year," said Debbie Mason, United Way of North Central Florida president and CEO. "That feedback really helped shape the modalities of Volunteer Select."
Early in 2012, the United Way of North Central Florida team realized the community needed a different way to match volunteers and in-kind services and goods with nonprofit organizations. There was not a system in place to match volunteers/donors with specific opportunities.
"We took that void seriously because we had volunteers looking to serve the community, yet they struggled to find an opportunity that was a match to their interests and the time they had available to give," said Mason.
In fall 2012, United Way of North Central Florida received the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) grant that focused on increasing volunteerism among people age 55 or older.
The RSVP grant focuses on recruiting senior volunteers and matching them either in early learning centers and elementary schools for reading support or placing them in three local high schools as mentors to children at risk of dropping out of school.
"As part of the RSVP grant, we had the opportunity to purchase software to better match senior volunteers," said Mason. "This became the platform for United Way to take on an even bigger role than we had in the past around volunteerism. Volunteer Select now supports all types of volunteerism, from those looking for an occasional service opportunity to those seeking a longer term, weekly or monthly commitment." For decades, United Way of North Central Florida coordinated volunteerism for its supporting corporations and the community, providing private team building activities, training to become effective board members, as well as coordinating large-scale days of action in support of connecting volunteers to community needs.
"We've been fortunate over the years to get some great volunteers from the previous online service offered by United Way of North Central Florida, but this new system better meets everyone's needs," said Radha Selvester, CDS Family & Behavioral Health Services, Inc. Outreach/Safe Place specialist.
The new online volunteer matching system, Volunteer Select, provides an opportunity for any IRS-approved nonprofit (civic and charitable) to post its volunteer needs and for any volunteer to post their individual desired volunteer opportunity. Each party gets an automated email when there is a match. This two-way feature gives nonprofit organizations a better chance of finding the right volunteer.
"We know there is a real need for readers and mentors to volunteer with school-aged children," said Mason. "Right now there is no central place for someone who wants to read or mentor youth to find those opportunities and find the right program for them."
United Way of North Central Florida has brought to the community three grants, totaling more than $500,000, focused on placing volunteers in evidence-based reading and mentor programs, as well as several more programs offered by other local nonprofit organizations.
Representing the Mentor Center and coalition of local mentoring programs, Keith Blanchard, Boys and Girls Clubs of Alachua County's chief professional officer shared, "We have a number of mentor programs in the community and each program has different volunteer opportunities based on the ages of children served, time of day, length of commitment, and types of skills needed. "The ability to have one online system for volunteers to find service opportunities and for nonprofit organizations to post their needs is invaluable."
There are other volunteer needs in this community beyond supporting education initiatives. Whether it is to serve meals to homebound seniors, usher at art venues, or provide support to environmental programs, Volunteer Select will match the right volunteer with any nonprofit organization in United Way of North Central Florida's six-county service area.
"It is really easy to get volunteers to serve meals to the homeless around Thanksgiving or Christmas," said Kent Vann, St. Francis House executive director. "Yet, we need volunteers year round to assist us not only in serving meals, but also to help with fundraisers, support us with routine beautification efforts, and so much more. A system like Volunteer Select will let us see what people are interested in doing and match our needs to their specific volunteer interests."
In addition to offering the two-way matching service for volunteers, Volunteer Select also provides an opportunity for people to donate in-kind items and services. Nonprofit organizations often need food, clothing, diapers, and equipment as well as services such as building repairs, lawn maintenance, plumbing, etc. North central Florida lacks a matching system to connect in-kind donors with recipient organizations.
"Our clients are always in need of baby items such as diapers, clothing, pack-n-plays, and unopened and unexpired baby formula," said Cathy Winfrey, Healthy Families Alachua program manager. "Volunteer Select is a perfect online, collaborative tool for people to post what they have for our agency and others to see what is available."
John Barli, Catholic Charities, Gainesville regional director agreed, "As government money endures continuing reductions, our ability to provide the Weekend Hunger Backpack Program to children of low-income families becomes more dependent on individuals who run food drives in their work, church and neighborhood."
One of the biggest barriers to someone volunteering is they do not know where to look for service opportunities that match their skills. Volunteer Select removes this barrier by matching people's skills with available volunteer opportunities at local nonprofit organizations. For instance, someone seeking to provide volunteer marketing, accounting, or another professional service enters those skills into the Volunteer Select program and a number of local volunteer opportunities appear that match that criteria.
"Volunteers are precious assets and United Way of North Central Florida takes our role in connecting volunteers with nonprofit organizations very seriously as part of our ongoing commitment to our donors, impact partners and the community," said Carolyn Lukert, United Way of North Central Florida board chair. "We are doing everything we can to make sure people who want to give back to the community have the opportunity to do so. Volunteer Select is a simple and effective solution to connect north central Florida's volunteers and in-kind donors with nonprofit organizations."
Volunteer Select is available at www.unitedwayncfl.org/volunteerselect.
United Way of North Central Florida partners to find and fund data-driven solutions and create community connections that change lives. As the single largest private funder of human services and non-governmental funder of education initiatives in our community, we improve lives by leading and convening experts and recruiting people and organizations from across our community who bring the expertise and resources needed to create lasting impact in our community.
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