When people think about supporting nonprofit charitable organizations, they often first consider providing a financial gift. While cash donations are prized, they aren’t the only way to give. Nonprofit leaders say volunteers can make a profound impact by supporting their mission in other ways.
‘Worth so much’
At least four times each year, Charlene Schliff visits Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong in Rochester, spreading happiness and a sense of calm to the kids being treated there.
Schliff has been one of the hospital’s most reliable volunteers for 15 years. The Lima, Livingston County, resident became involved after her young niece, Gabriella Napodano, died of cancer in 2001.
Wendy Lane, child life coordinator at the hospital, remembers those days. “Gabby loved doing arts and crafts, so Charlene would make these little craft kits for her while she was in the hospital,” Lane said. “Then, she started making them for all of the kids, and she’s never stopped.”
Schliff relishes her volunteer role and the ability to bring happiness to ill and injured children. “It’s been so much fun to know they have something to do at the hospital,” she said. “I watch for sales at the craft stores and I get different supplies that the kids can put together quickly and easily. I’m always on the lookout for parts and pieces.”
At Golisano Children’s Hospital, more than 100 community members serve in all manner of volunteer roles. Prospective volunteers can be especially effective there if they can commit to at least one year of service and keep a regular schedule.
“In addition to people like Charlene, our best volunteers are the ones who we know will be here every Tuesday afternoon to rock the babies, or come in and play bingo with the kids every Thursday,” Lane explained. “Volunteers enhance our programs, and when they come in they provide so much joy.
“People like Charlene don’t give us thousands and thousands of dollars, but she has given an incredible amount of her time and passion,” Lane said. “That’s worth so much to us and to the children.”
For nearly 35 years, Patricia Slimmer has advocated on behalf of neglected and abused children in and around Monroe County. Upon retiring from a career that spanned three decades, she continues her work on a volunteer basis on behalf of her former employer, Court Appointed Special Advocates, a nonprofit agency known as CASA.
As a volunteer, Slimmer continues to advocate for children who are at risk of being removed—or have been removed—from their homes. She is empowered by the courts to share information with judges to help ensure a child’s needs are addressed. She speaks up for the child’s best interests until he or she is placed in a safe, permanent home.
“She is, by far, the longest tenured of any of our Court Appointed Special Ad-vocates,” said Liz Caldwell, the organi-zation’s executive director, of Slimmer’s career and volunteer work. “Since Pat was in our first training class in 1981, and CASA of Rochester and Monroe County is the fifth oldest of the nation’s 950 nonprofit CASAs, it is likely there are few others with her tenure. If there are, there is little likelihood any have had a greater impact on a community’s most vulnerable, at-risk children in family court than Pat.”
Slimmer’s overriding passion is to help children who are caught in a court system they can’t understand and whose journey is complicated by the fact that they deal with abuse or neglect in their home. These situations are serious enough that at least one adult in the child’s home has been legally charged and will appear before a judge to determine whether the child can be reunified with his or her parent.
In retirement, Slimmer helps CASA by serving as chief fundraiser. Over the last decade, she has been responsible for raising $550,000. “We can’t thank Pat enough for her extraordinary focus, creativity, persistence and determination during her years of association with CASA,” Caldwell said.
Large volunteer effort
While people such as Schliff and Slimmer volunteer for years to support their nonprofit of choice, others have the ability to make a significant impact on a short-term basis, said Juli Geyer, director of marketing and communications for United Way of Greater Rochester.
“From cleaning up parks to painting rooms, from reading to children to getting summer camps ready, our annual Day of Caring is our community’s largest volunteer effort of the year,” she said. “Many nonprofits just don’t have the resources to accomplish what is done on their behalf during this day.”
Each year, some 200 local nonprofits register with United Way and outline their desire for community support on Day of Caring. Last year, more than 6,500 people gave their time, collectively contributing 40,000 hours to support these causes. Some businesses—including Paychex Inc. and Wegmans Food Markets Inc.— grant time off to support the efforts of participating employees.
The 2017 United Way Day of Caring is set for Thursday, May 11. Local nonprofits can begin registering volunteer opportunities with United Way on Jan. 23, while those interested in lending a hand can peruse projects of interest the following month. Volunteer opportunities will be shared at uwrochester.org/dayofcaring.
“Rochester really is one of the most generous and caring communities in the country,” Geyer said. “We know that through per-capita giving, but we also know that based on the amount of time that people give to our community. Without this volunteer support, many local organizations that people count on would not be what they are today.”
Travis Anderson is a Rochester-area freelance writer.
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