What will it take to get the Flint community mobilized to contribute to the well-being of their city? How about an opportunity to “shop” for the right charity from a variety of area nonprofits at a single event?
As director of volunteer services at HandsOn Genesee, the volunteer division of Resource Genesee, Julia Zaher is always seeking to connect people with opportunities to give back. This year, the HandsOn Genesee Volunteer Expo will be held from 2-6pm on October 9 at UM-Flint’s University Center. Over 35 nonprofits big and small will be there, seeking the volunteers who make their outreach possible. The Food Bank of Eastern Michigan is one of the largest charities at the expo, utilizing over 7,000 volunteers. Last year, those volunteers logged 61,818 hours checking, cleaning, labeling and sorting, according to Karol Conrad, Volunteer Coordinator at FBEM. “Volunteers are critical to the mission and daily work of the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan,” Karol said. “Without their assistance, we simply could not help those in need. They are the heart of our operation and also our greatest need.” While not every charity present at the expo operates on such a large scale as the Food Bank, they also find volunteers an indispensable part of their operations.
Phyllis Frost is an example of someone who began volunteering after attending the Volunteer Expo. She remembers how her life changed when she retired and her children moved away. “I was lonely, for lack of a better word. I decided to get back out with people and just help in any way I could,” she said. Phyllis attended the 2012 expo with a friend to look for an opportunity to get involved. She spoke with recruiters from the Genesee-Lapeer Chapter of the American Red Cross and now volunteers with blood services. “I had always been a blood donor and wondered how those people who helped got to do it. Once I started volunteering, I enjoyed it. It is a learning experience and keeps me active.” Phyllis says that the ability to give back to the Red Cross is important to her because they once helped her. “I needed blood for a surgery and I’m grateful that it was there for me,” she said. “I’m happy to serve my community and I do not want anything in return. There is too much adversity in the world; I want to plant smiles on faces.” Phyllis spreads so many smiles at local blood drives that she recently received the title of Red Cross “Volunteer of the Year.” Her response was humility and gratitude. “Truthfully, I was stunned,” she said. “I don’t feel I did anything that anyone else wouldn’t do. But when we are given credit for what we do out of kindness, it warms our hearts. My heart is very warm and glowing.”
Julia says she’s heard many stories like Phyllis’. “Volunteering makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger than yourself. You get so much more out of it than you ever give.” Julia also said that the HandsOn Genesee Volunteer Expo is a serious event. “It’s not that we don’t have fun,” she explained, “but people who come are serious about finding a place to volunteer that’s a good fit. They aren’t there for free food.” This seriousness has very important consequences for the nonprofits in attendance. “I have been told time and again by different groups how successful this event is for filling their needs. It’s wonderful.”
Photography by Autumn Rummel