Bergen Volunteers Seeks to Strengthen Communities and Improve Lives

Bergen Volunteers Seeks to Strengthen Communities and Improve Lives

The Points of Light Global Network operates with innovative volunteer-mobilizing organizations that serve more than 145 affiliates across 39 countries around the world. Together, we are inspiring, equipping and mobilizing more people to use their time, talent and resources to create positive change in their communities. We spoke with Melissa Heule from Bergen Volunteers, a Points of Light affiliate in Hackensack, N.J., to discuss volunteer retention. Bergen Volunteers provides human service and training programs to improve lives and strengthen communities. The organization provides critical services to youth, families, veterans, seniors and those who are economically disadvantaged in the community. They also connect volunteers with their own programs and those offered by the nonprofit community.

How is your organization engaging volunteers this year?

We have partnered with more than 90 local agencies in helping them amplify their efforts, promote events, connect with the right volunteers and offer support. We also have a dozen in-house programs for our community from kids’ literacy and mentoring programs, to financial advice, tax preparation, handiwork and errands services for seniors and those with limited means. We’re highlighting all of our programs and sharing thanks ahead of our spring campaigns.

How are you engaging with volunteers to inspire them to participate in community service activities?

We reach them through social media, newsletters, mailings, special events, corporate outreach, community outreach, long standing connections with leaders in the county and surrounding areas, business networking, press releases, schools, towns, word of mouth and youth-oriented groups.

What resources or tools are you providing to volunteers to help them get involved in their community?

We offer program training sessions, background checks, various promotions, celebrations, donated goods to give out to program participants (like books and wellness items), announcements, partnerships, corporate funds, grants for our programs and more.

What role does volunteerism play in your organization’s overall mission and objectives?

We have a small staff but support 8,000 county citizens, donate $1,000 worth of goods, collect hundreds of bags, books and supplies and also fundraise.

We offer services to those who wouldn’t have had access to many of these programs. Our volunteers also participate, often times, as clients and as multi-level volunteers addressing our daily needs and overall program goals.

Share one success story of a volunteer (or a group of volunteers) in your community who have made a significant impact.

It’s always gratifying to hear from people we’ve had the opportunity to work with. You can share our joy in some notes of appreciation we received throughout 2022 on YouTube.

What are some future plans for your organization to continue promoting volunteerism and civic engagement?

We have a long-standing Bergen LEADS community civics program where area residents and workers get exclusive access to government and public agencies, have Q&A discussions with leaders and come up with an annual capstone project solving an issue in the county. They present them in a public forum, and the winning idea implements them in year two. We hope to expand social services with more volunteer offerings.

Can you share any tips or best practices for other organizations looking to recognize volunteers?

Share stories. Match skills, schedules and desires with appropriate volunteer opportunities. Stay organized, cross-promote, have a supportive staff and come up with creative ways to grow and show off all that an organization can accomplish, especially through adversity.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone who’s looking to get more involved in their community through volunteerism?

Don’t see limitations as an end. Learn how to take advantage of compatible programs like “Redefining Retirement.” Our volunteer, and 30+ year retired music teacher used to volunteer in the handiwork program until back issues gave him trouble. He now supports clients with scheduling and loves keeping in contact with amazing folks in our area. Many of our volunteers have extensive law, education, professional, healthcare, wellness and parenting backgrounds and that knowledge supports our programs. Many feel they get more out of the program that they give. Volunteerism is great for mental health.

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