March Great Story by Margot Stert, Bay Area North Fellow
When I first joined CivicSpark, the program had already started for other fellows, so I needed a place to live in the Bay Area ASAP. Fortunately, a friend’s family in the East Bay offered to house me rent-free (since living in the Bay Area is far from cheap), but unfortunately, that was over an hour drive from my workplace in Napa. For the first couple of months, my daily commute was over 100 miles round trip, which wasn’t great for my car, my sanity, or my personal carbon footprint!
As luck would have it, in February, a nonprofit organization called the Volunteer Center of the East Bay graciously offered to let me work in their office space in Walnut Creek. I still drive up to Napa weekly, but the nature of my projects allows me to work remotely most of the time, and now my commute is incredibly shorter. The Volunteer Center has had their own AmeriCorps fellows prior to me, so I believe their familiarity with AmeriCorps programs is what inclined them to take me in.
The Volunteer Center does other great work besides just taking care of lost fellows like myself. They promote service in the East Bay by connecting enthusiastic volunteers with nonprofits in need of them. Individuals can search the Center’s online database of hundreds of one-time and on-going volunteer opportunities by organization, service type, and location. They can also create a volunteer profile, which allows them to save searches and receive automatic emails about similar kinds of opportunities.
Non-profits that become members with the Center can increase their ability to recruit volunteers by having their activities posted on the Center’s list of opportunities. The Center also provides these members with trainings on non-profit management topics, such as grant writing, media design, and organizing volunteers. Some of these partners include the Alameda County Community Food Bank, Sustainable Contra Costa, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Even private businesses can get involved with the Volunteer Center to connect their employees to local volunteer opportunities and strengthen their relationships with the community. For example, Corporate Caring Volunteer Week mobilizes 2,500 to 3,000 business volunteers to hundreds of nonprofits each September.
As Executive Director, Jo Loss, says, “The Volunteer Center provides lifeblood to nonprofits, the volunteers that help with critical services to the most-needy in our communities. Our volunteers choose their positions based on their passions, and that creates long-time outstanding participants.” The service done by these volunteers fills a void in the community where there simply aren’t alternative means to accomplish the work they do. Jo continues, “The role of the volunteer is more necessary than ever in 2016. Building relationships as you help others enriches everyone’s life and reminds each of us of the importance of human contact with others.”
The folks at the Volunteer Center foster a positive, service-oriented environment not only between the staff and volunteers (and lone CivicSpark fellow) here in the office, but also in the greater East Bay. As someone who wasn’t so heavily involved with service work prior to the CivicSpark fellowship, it is incredibly inspiring to see individuals who dedicate so much of their time to volunteer efforts.