Volunteer Fairfax: Celebrating Inclusive Volunteerism
“Inclusive volunteerism is this kind of shift to meet you wherever you’re at,” Hollie Gordon, Manager of Communications and Public Engagements at Volunteer Fairfax, told the Catalogue for Philanthropy in a recent conversation. “Your time is also treasure — you don’t have to necessarily have the financial means to go out and make big purchases, but giving your time, knowledge, and energy to something is just as valuable.”
Volunteer Fairfax is the region’s central resource for community engagement for the last 48 years — pre-pandemic, they attracted close to 14,000 volunteers yearly serving more than 41,000 hours. “(We) emphasize the work nonprofits are doing and pair volunteers with nonprofits,” said Hollie. Though there is interest in engaging civically, with Virginia Service reporting 34% of Virginians volunteering in 2018, “sometimes we just need someone to make that extra connection,” especially since it can be challenging for people with families and jobs to find the time.
One of Volunteer Fairfax’s signature annual events is VolunteerFest, a yearly county-wide day of service event that engages people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. During the pandemic, they were able to create more inclusive volunteer opportunities by developing projects for volunteers to participate in at-home, such as putting together kits that address the donation needs of various nonprofit partners (i.e. toiletry kits to serve people experiencing homelessness and snack packs for kids in after-school programs). VolunteerFest allows members of the community to connect with each other while serving and learning about local nonprofits. “Through this at-home, virtual model,” Hollie noted, “we were able to bring volunteerism to people at home so they could define for themselves the specific place and budget they felt comfortable working with,” thereby allowing older residents, families with kids, teens, and busy professionals to get involved.
VolunteerFest will begin on September 11 with the launch of at-home projects and continues throughout the weekend with projects occurring in-person on Saturday and Sunday, September 17 and 18. This year’s opportunities range from baking and packing homemade treats for pets to litter clean-ups, storm drain labeling, and refreshing an outdoor classroom at a local elementary school!
Despite the challenges that COVID-19 presented, Volunteer Fairfax’s new model of embracing volunteers where they’re at is worth celebrating. “I think that people (often) feel like they don’t have the time to (make a long-term commitment),” Hollie continued. “But we try to lower the bar to let people know that you can show up and drive someone to an appointment, and even if you do it three times over the year, you helped.” For them, engaging the volunteer community is a yes/and. Yes, volunteers who can show up week after week are critical.?And volunteers who aren’t currently able to do so are also making an important contribution. “When volunteers show up, they learn about the needs in our community and all the ways (big and small) they can serve,” Hollie emphasized.
Something she’s excited about is seeing more engagement from younger people. “There has been a shift in political activism and civic engagement in younger people,” she added. “A lot of our growth in numbers (is because of) teenagers, who come on to do one or two projects and become really engaged with the organizations they touch.” This increased involvement mirrors her own personal experience and echoes the stories they’ve heard from the volunteers they celebrate through their annual Volunteer Services Awards, which recognize the people who do important work with their nonprofit partners.
“We heard from volunteers who’d been on the frontlines bringing vaccinations to people when we were doing mass vaccine clinics in Fairfax County,” she said. “We heard from volunteers who were at Dulles Airport (helping) Afghan refugees get settled, including someone who worked a full-time job and would set their alarm at midnight to go to Dulles.”
These inspiring stories and experiences get to the heart of why volunteerism matters and how much of an impact volunteering really makes. Volunteer Fairfax believes that we can only build a better community when we work together. This September, share your time and talent with nonprofits across Fairfax County and join them in meeting the needs of your community!
Participate in VolunteerFest and learn more about the work of Volunteer Fairfax at http://www.volunteerfairfax.org. Make sure you follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and subscribe to their newsletter to stay in the know about their volunteer opportunities.