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North Hills Monthly

Local Agencies Help Prospective Volunteers Find the Right Fit

Jun 01, 2015 11:32AM ● By Jennifer Monahan
Everyone knows that it’s a good idea to help others, to serve, to make a positive impact in the community. Turning that idea into concrete action, however, is where many of us stumble. Amid worries about how to find the right organization, whom to contact or where to go, it is easy to opt out and keep pushing ‘volunteer’ farther down the to-do list. Happily for residents of the North Hills, Pittsburgh is home to a number of exemplary organizations that can help connect prospective volunteers with the places that need them most.

Individuals looking for a fast and convenient way to get information can check out, a national nonprofit agency whose website garners more than 10 million visitors annually. A quick search for volunteer opportunities in Cranberry Township produced 478 ‘Near You & New’ listings. The website also offers the option of selecting virtual services—activities that can be done from your computer, your home or anywhere.

Locally, Pittsburgh Cares engages potential volunteers in a more substantive evaluation process. Executive Director Deb Hopkins explained, “Our most important function is that we spend a lot of time helping people find the right fit—where their passions are, where they can make an impact.”

Pittsburgh Cares’ staff has in-depth conversations with prospective volunteers as well as with the nonprofit organizations that need assistance. Hopkins joked, “We’re sort of like the eHarmony of volunteerism.”

She added, “We do track successful placements—including where our volunteers go, where they remain, and the quality of the experience for both the volunteer and the organization.”

Another option for area volunteers is the United Way. Christy Stuber, director of volunteer initiatives for United Way of Allegheny County, explained that the United Way website has a multitude of options for both short- and long-term commitments, so individuals can select the type of service that best fits their needs. Stuber noted, “We have over 6,000 volunteers annually across a wide array of activities—everything from mentoring middle-school students, to a one-time day of service making quilts for homeless veterans, to serving on one of the United Way’s committees that help set and guide strategies for addressing critical needs in our community.”

The Red Cross of Southwestern Pennsylvania provides yet another range of volunteer options. Kevin Brown, regional director of communications for western Pennsylvania, explained, “We start with an interview, which includes an assessment designed to find out about the skills, interests and background of a potential volunteer. We have a variety of positions, so we are able to accommodate a lot of different interests.”

Brown added, “We also do a background check, because most of our volunteers have a lot of responsibility. Once they go through these initial steps, the volunteer attends an orientation. From there we connect people with trainers. We invest a lot of time in working with and training volunteers to make sure that they are prepared for the tasks they are given.”

Anna Drenning, the Red Cross regional youth volunteer specialist for western Pennsylvania, said that while many of their volunteers serve for years in various capacities within the Red Cross, that is not to say that people have to make a long-term commitment. “Volunteer opportunities range from helping at the reception desk to being part of one-day events to serving in ongoing roles on disaster-relief teams,” she explained.

Hopkins and Stuber echo this sentiment, and note that service opportunities exist for people of all ages and at all levels of commitment. “There is no typical demographic of volunteers, but we do find that volunteer experiences get a significant response and are met with a lot of enthusiasm by millennials,” said Hopkins. Drawing on this same energy, Drenning shared plans for a new group targeting young professionals in the area. Club Red, soon to launch in Pittsburgh, will bring together potential volunteers between the ages of 22 and 35 for opportunities to engage in service, to network and to socialize.

Another active volunteer pool within Pittsburgh Cares, according to Hopkins, is individuals who are getting ready to retire or who have just retired. “This group tends to be college-educated professionals, and we work closely with them to find out about their interests and skills so that we can match them with the organization that offers the best fit,” Hopkins explained.

Brown indicated that there is no predictable profile for a Red Cross volunteer and emphasized, “We need volunteers across the spectrum of the community. We need people of all skill levels.” Drenning added, “We need volunteers of all backgrounds because we serve people from all backgrounds.”

Across these organizations, the demand for volunteers is highest in areas that require an ongoing relationship. Hopkins said, “We see the greatest need for volunteers who have the ability to tutor at all grade levels. We are very committed to the Pittsburgh Public Schools, including their Head Start program. We also work with Community College of Allegheny County, and need tutors for those students, so the need spans all ages and grades.”

“If a new volunteer wants to have the biggest impact, that person should seek out a one-on-one relationship, such as being a middle-school mentor,” Stuber agreed. “We can track and see the impact that those adults have on students’ improved attendance and behavior.” Similarly, Brown said that individuals who are willing to serve on disaster relief teams and as educators for emergency preparedness are among their most critical volunteer needs; in both cases, the Red Cross works diligently to provide hands-on training that goes beyond the single day-of-service model.

Whether you’re looking for a one-time opportunity to help out in the local community or an ongoing volunteer relationship, Pittsburgh has a wealth of committed organizations to assist in finding the right match for your unique abilities.   

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