NVW: What keeps volunteers coming back for more?

As we close out National Volunteer Week, we wanted to focus on the impact volunteering has — both on nonprofits and the volunteers themselves. Join interviews with Abigail, Bill, and Eliza — volunteers at three different nonprofits receiving our COVID-19 Recovery Grant — as we discuss how they got involved in their communities, and what has kept them engaged for years.
Published on
Saturday, April 22, 2023
MSA Updates - The Impact of Volunteering

As we close out National Volunteer Week, we wanted to focus on the impact volunteering has — both on nonprofits and the volunteers themselves. Join interviews with Abigail, Bill, and Eliza — volunteers at three different nonprofits receiving our COVID-19 Recovery Grant — as we discuss how they got involved in their communities, and what has kept them engaged for years.

Getting Involved

Abigail Epplett is a volunteer with Blackstone Heritage Corridor (BHC), a nonprofit that works towards preserving and promoting the Blackstone River Valley's historic, cultural, natural, and recreational resources. "I started volunteering [in 2019] after [reading] an article in a local newspaper about Blackstone Heritage Corridor, which had a call for volunteers. At the time I had recently graduated college, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next, and I thought this was a really great opportunity to meet some new people and learn more about an area where I had lived for 23 years." Abigail works on a wide range of projects with BHC, from creating an online exhibit on Abby Kelley Foster, to planting a pollinator garden, to playing her violin at in-person events, to acting as a Bikeway Ambassador and Community Ambassador.

Abigail in action

Bill Fogarty is a volunteer with Homework House, a free, after-school, academic support program in Holyoke for 6-13-year-olds. He already knew about Homework House for a number of years through connections he made while being an administrator at Holyoke Community College. When he retired in 2019, he wanted to start volunteering — and Homework House seemed like the natural choice. Bill currently volunteers at Homework House twice a week, where he helps with homework and general academic enrichment. "A lot of times the kids are kind of cooked since they've been in school all-day, so you have to be a little bit creative in figuring out ways to get them to do academic enrichment [in a way] that doesn't seem like more schoolwork."

Eliza packing meals

Eliza McFeely is a volunteer with Truro Community Kitchen (TCK), a nonprofit fighting food insecurity. "My husband and I retired to Truro at the beginning of the pandemic," she explained. "We knew virtually no one in town, and we were not connected to any of the circles that would keep us abreast of what was going on here, and I needed something to do — some way to help. [When I got involved,] TCK had two teams, each cooking twice a month... I filled in a couple of times, did some odd runs to pick up donations. Then one day I was called in to work with the team with David Sobel, one of the founders of TCK, [who] moved me from salads, sandwiches and bagels into the kitchen." That change transitioned Eliza from a "here and there" volunteer to getting deeply involved in the running of the organization. Today, she does everything from being a lead cook, to tracking and coordinating multiple food deliveries a month, to working with interns from Delicious Living Nutrition, to filling in miscellaneous volunteer roles. Eliza is also a member of TCK's board.

Finding Fulfillment

Abigail finds her volunteering at Blackstone Heritage Corridor fulfilling for a number of reasons: she loves sharing her knowledge with visitors, meeting new people and learning about their areas of expertise, improving the place where she lives, and interacting with BHC's great staff. "There's also always free food at BHC events — and high-quality food at that. BHC has a collaboration with Cabot Cheese, so free cheese? Donuts? It's amazing." One of her most recent favorite memories of volunteering is when she was called to play violin at an event — an event that she was shocked to realize was in part to honor her as Blackstone Heritage Corridor's inaugural Suzanne Buchanan Volunteer of the Year.

Bill tutoring kids

Bill finds his volunteering fulfilling through the relationships he forms with the kids he tutors. "I usually work with the kids who are in fifth and sixth grade and they're very fun to be around," he said. "Kids that age are very quirky and just starting to figure themselves out. It's so [fulfilling] when they seek you out to work with you." One of his most recent favorite memories of volunteering was when he was able to connect a curious student with a book about microscopic organisms. "He's been devouring that book now for weeks, and it felt really good to pull something out that a kid gets really interested in — when you hit on something that really sparks a kid's interest."

Eliza finds her volunteering fulfilling for two reasons: the importance of the work she does, and the community she's found. "It seems counterintuitive that there could be people in a town like Truro who need food assistance," she explained. "It is a resort town, with many expensive houses that sit empty most of the year. But there are also year-round residents who, especially during the pandemic, when almost everything shut down, still needed to eat. Many of Truro’s residents are elderly, as well. Not only do they need our meals, but our drivers were a link to the outside world at a time when many of them needed that, too. TCK became the way I became part of Truro. The volunteers I met there have become friends and have introduced me to more friends. I don’t know that I have ever worked with a group of people that were more determined to be helpful and supportive."

Getting Involved

When asked about encouragement she'd give to people considering getting involved in their community, Abigail said that she thought volunteering was good for people at different stages of life for different reasons. "Many volunteers are older, typically retirees looking to make friends and fill up the hours that they once dedicated to a job. This is a terrific way for [older] adults to give back to their community. Another common demographic is teenagers... and volunteering is an opportunity for [them] to learn what they enjoy, opening their awareness to future career options. The smallest volunteer group is people in their twenties and thirties, which happens to be my age group. My peers have graduated from school and begun their careers but may not have found their niche in the community. Volunteering... gives them time to meet people from other generations who [can] give advice or advocate for other perspectives."

Bill advised people thinking about volunteering to find the right role for them. "Obviously working with kids isn't something everybody would want to do, but I think a lot of times when people go to volunteer, they do it once or twice and it just doesn't seem quite right and they give it up. A lot of times you have to stick with volunteering for a while to figure out whether it'll be a good fit." He also had advice for people considering volunteer tutoring in particular: "A lot of people are concerned about tutoring because they don't feel like they know enough math and academic stuff, and that they really need to know more in order to tutor. And what I've found is that while it's great if you know the subject, these kids have people talking at them all day. A few weeks ago, one of the students I work with asked me to help him with his homework and it was geometry. I never used geometry in any of my jobs, and it's been like 55 years since I was in the classroom. I got this momentary sense of panic, and then just looked at the kid and said, 'I don't know this stuff.' Now, I immediately got the kid's interest. [We went] online to try to figure it out together, and I think kids retain information a lot better when they've been actively involved in figuring it out with you."

Eliza advised potential volunteers to "Do it." She elaborated: "There is something so satisfying about doing something personally for the people around you. Giving money is important, but it can’t match working together with a bunch of good folks to help others. The world is a mess, but here, in a kitchen at a church in Truro, I can make a real difference to real people."

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