By JILLIAN LYNCH Daily News-Record
For nonprofits, anything that can save money to channel it more effectively toward the cause is a go.
Small improvements, like painting a wall in the office, landscaping or donating old equipment are jobs that take up time for nonprofit workers themselves or money to hire labor to complete them, which can take away from their mission.
During United Way of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County’s annual Day of Action on Wednesday, volunteers took to local nonprofit organizations, like Big Brothers Big Sisters of Harrisonburg-Rockingham County, The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County to complete acts of service for the organizations, so they can focus their resources on serving the community.
“United Way is a macro-level organization that works with a lot of community issues from a 30,000-foot view, if you will,” said Laura Toni-Holsinger, executive director of the local United Way. “During the pandemic … we’ve seen firsthand how human service organizations have had an increase in the need for their services. That sort of thing takes a toll when you’re in that for 15 months plus.”
The annual event, which has been going on for more than 45 years, is organized by United Way, whose vision is “strategically convening community partners to create measurable social change.”
“This day is a nice reminder to [the nonprofits] that there’s a lot of people in their corner … supporting them,” Toni-Holsinger said. “Even if it’s moving some furniture today or painting a bunch of walls … I think anything that we can do to spread some joy and light and encouragement is important.”
United Way changed the name of the event, formerly known as the Day of Caring, this year to better reflect its impact, according to Toni-Holsinger.
She said the day often results in a compound effect: first volunteers help improve the nonprofits, but the service opportunity also connects the volunteers with the mission behind the group they’re helping.
That often leads to greater connections between the community and nonprofits.
“We changed the name of Day of Action for people … as a call to action. So not just for people to learn and serve today but to … get involved in the community all year-round. And that’s what we’re already seeing,” Toni-Holsinger said. “[Through Day of Action] people are volunteering at a nonprofit and learning about an issue and later get involved as maybe a volunteer or a donor or a board member.”
The Day of Action, which saw over 600 volunteers in 2019, was hosted virtually this year and featured a virtual opening ceremony with guest speakers Odicci Alexander, former James Madison University softball pitcher, and Robert Anthony, an amputee, athlete and motivational speaker.
Heather Denman, executive director of The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham, an organization that promotes inclusion and human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, guided a group of volunteers through a list of tasks that assisted in condensing administrative space into former programming space to cut costs as more services take place in clients’ homes and less often in the programming space.
“Most people think of United Way as a funding agency, but they do so much more,” Denman said. “[Day of Action is] a really important day to connect with volunteers from the community, have more folks learn about [the Arc’s] mission and what we do, and basically make new friends.”
Holly Thorne, director of marketing for F&M Bank, came along with a team of co-workers to volunteer at the Big Brothers Big Sisters office, painting and refurbishing the newly christened conference room. Thorne said she’s worked with F&M Bank in Harrisonburg for nine years and has been involved with United Way’s day of service each year.
“There’s so much need in the community,” Thorne said. “And that’s one thing about [F&M Bank] — it’s a community bank so it’s part of our big focus: helping where we can, when we can. Our team is really committed to doing this sort of thing and volunteering on boards, and being members of civic organizations is very important to us.”
This year, the day also included virtual workshops with topics including “What the Heck is Happening in Our Community for Affordable Housing?” hosted by Our Community Place, “Value of a School Garden Program,” hosted by James Madison University, and a presentation by the Valley Program for Aging Services on being a part of the “Dementia Friends” program.
More service projects were planned for the day, but outdoor projects were rescheduled for later due to the rain.
Lindsey Douglas, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Harrisonburg-Rockingham County, said the Day of Action provides much value to the nonprofits.
“It is always helpful,” Douglas said. “When you’re a nonprofit, you’re trying to make the most of every dollar and really put it back into the community and for us, put it back into the impact of one-to-one mentoring. And so when staff or paid helpers don’t have to do jobs like painting or organizing, then they can put more of their energy towards actually implementing services. It helps every dollar donated to the organization go further.”
The Day of Action also kicks off United Way’s annual fundraising effort.
Toni-Holsinger said money donated goes to United Way’s work to support the ALICE population in Harrisonburg — people who are working, but struggling to make ends meet — and to the nonprofit’s mission of connecting community groups in meaningful ways.
Courtesy of Daily News Record