Monday, December 21, 1998, Vol. 112, No. 233

By STACEY PETSCHAUER Season of sustenance Hands On Memphis and the Volunteer Center offer opportunities to volunteer year round By STACEY PETSCHAUER The Daily News The spirit of giving is embedded in the holiday season. It is a time when people put aside their own needs to focus on the needs and wants of others. As a result, volunteer and charity organizations generally are swamped with Santas helpers throughout the Christmas season. People who work in the agencies that benefit from this holiday boom are glad to have the support. But, many of them wish the glad tidings and strong spirit of volunteerism the holidays bring would extend more readily into the other 11 months of the year. "We love it this time of year because somehow between Thanksgiving and New Years, people suddenly realize, Gee, I need to be doing some nice things for my fellow man," said Ken Hall, executive director of Hands On Memphis. "What I want them to do is remember in January that those fellow men are still out there. "Ive worked in a situation where I was with an agency that dealt with children. They would have people coming out of the woodwork at Christmas time with gifts and toys, and then the kids are left saying, What happened? They dont love me anymore in January." The Volunteer Center of Memphis also sees people thinking more about volunteering during the holiday season, said Nancy Thompson, community resources manager. It also has the same concerns. "The needs dont go away. It would be wonderful for people to keep this in the forefront of their minds throughout the year," she said. Organizations such as Hands On Memphis and the Volunteer Center offer people who want to volunteer during the holidays or any other time plenty of opportunities. These organizations will do the investigative work, so all prospective volunteers have to do is decide to donate their time. Both organizations work with a variety of non-profit organizations to recruit and coordinate volunteers for agencies and programs in need. The types of projects they take on range from helping serve food at homeless shelters to sponsoring citywide clean-up efforts. Both groups publish monthly newsletters that list volunteer opportunities. The Volunteer Centers monthly publication is available at branch libraries, Seessels stores and several bookstores, Thompson said. The four-page newsletter, which comes out around the first of every month, lists special events, ongoing volunteer activities and volunteer training opportunities. A volunteer need of particular urgency right now is tutoring, Thompson said. "In general, we know of at least a dozen different tutoring programs that are always looking for people to serve as tutors," she said. "A lot of that is elementary school, but there are also opportunities to tutor middle school, high school and even college-level students." The Volunteer Center operates its own tutoring program, called Project R.S.V.P. (Reading Success through Volunteer Partners). The program, conducted in partnership with the Memphis City School system, focuses on helping children in kindergarten through third grade with reading skills. The children who participate in the program are in the lowest 30 percent of their reading ability groups. The Volunteer Center asks tutors to spend an hour a week with the children. "During that time, they meet with two children, 30 minutes apiece, and they work on very specific kinds of activities," said Alayne Shoenfeld, Volunteers in Schools program manager for the Volunteer Center. She said the program, which has been in the planning and grant proposal stages for about two years, was first implemented in seven area schools last month. But, although the program has not been in existence long enough to have produced visible results, such as an increase in reading test scores, Shoenfeld said it is going well so far. "There has been a lot of positive feedback in terms of attitude," she said. "What we are seeing is that the children are really happy to have an adult give them their undivided attention for a whole 30 minutes, and the bonding that has gone on so quickly between the tutors and their kids sparked a lot of enthusiasm." The programs long-term goals are to raise scores and foster an appreciation for reading, she said. The program is in need of many more volunteers. "Right now, were working in seven schools. We certainly in the future would like to expand to many, many more schools," she said. The Volunteer Center also offers opportunities in other areas. Anyone interested in volunteering can call 458-3288 to request more information about needs in the community. The center often steers people toward needs they might not have considered. "People tend, naturally, to think of the big agencies, the agencies that get lots of publicity, places like St. Jude and Ronald McDonald House and Make-A-Wish Foundation. Those are wonderful agencies, and they certainly are deserving of support, and where would we be without them? "But, there are other agencies that are not in the forefront of peoples consciousness that also are equally deserving, and sometimes volunteers can mean more to them. If they are a smaller agency without the resources of some of the bigger, well-known agencies, then one volunteer or two or three volunteers can make a bigger difference to them," Thompson said. The opportunities that Hands On Memphis and the Volunteer Center provide for volunteers and prospective volunteers are in many ways similar. The main difference in the programs is in their operation. The Volunteer Center refers people to activities they are suited for, and the volunteers pursue activities with the agencies on their own. Hands On Memphis goes a step further, by planning organized activities for set numbers of volunteers at the agencies it assists. "Basically, we publish a monthly calendar that we send out to our volunteer base and they choose the activities they want to go to. We simply set the programs up, have a lead volunteer there, and kind of coordinate it all between the volunteers and the agencies," Hall said. He said the nice thing about the Hands On Memphis system is that activities are planned year round in a team-based approach, so volunteers attend projects with five or 10 other people. "You dont have to go by yourself. Its not quite so scary that way if youve never done it before, and once you go, its fun," he said. The organization plans activities in different areas of interest. "The variety is there if you want to work with children, or the elderly, or animals, or arts, or homeless meals, or AIDS or whatever," Hall said. The system keeps volunteers from having to do the planning and organization work themselves, he said. "Otherwise, people have to call an agency. They have to find the right person in the agency. They have to go through with that agency what possible things they could do and when they could do it. "You have to be pretty darn proactive and motivated to go through those many hurdles to volunteer in the first place," he said. Hands On Memphis volunteers are asked to participate in a one-time, 30-minute orientation session that educates them about the work the organizations volunteers do and any concerns involved with the work. The program, which can be reached at 523-1377, has grown from around 30 volunteers when it began five years ago to about 1,800 active volunteers today. Many non-profit agencies around the community operate mainly from the help organizations such as Hands On Memphis and the Volunteer Center provide. Alzheimers Adult Day Services relies on volunteers to help with its programs participants in many respects. "We have a very involved activity program here, and we utilize volunteers to do one-on-one kinds of things with our participants," said program director Julie Todd. "A lot of times the volunteers will come in and just sit with them and talk. They just try to help motivate and encourage participants to be a part of the activities." She said volunteers come in just looking to help where they are needed and leave feeling like they have been helped as well. "Its a give and take kind of thing. I think people that come in get as much out of the people here as they are getting from them," she said.