Culture of Volunteerism

by Shelby Pedersen
CEO – ICAN: Positive Programs for Youth

ICAN wrapped up our Volunteer Appreciation Week a few weeks ago and I was again reminded of how volunteers truly are the lifeblood of what we do. We simply could not provide the services that we do without our volunteers. ICAN recently went through the process of becoming a Service Enterprise through the Arizona Governor’s Office and Points of Light – in fact, we were the first organization in the state of Arizona to do so. Points of Light is the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service – they partnered with the Governor’s Office to create a process to certify local organizations so that they can better understand and maximize the true value of volunteers.

Garden Vol Chandler 02 25 15Becoming a Service Enterprise helped us realize the value of our volunteers. Last year alone, ICAN’s volunteers donated over 18,000 hours of their time to our organization. That time is valued at $22 an hour, which equals a total value to the organization of over $400,000 a year. What an incredible impact for ICAN’s youth.

The return on investment is one way to show the impact of volunteers. However, it is seeing the day-to-day interaction that really exemplifies the effect of our volunteers. Volunteers like Tom, who started volunteering at ICAN and noticed an under-utilized garden in the back. Tom took it upon himself to lend his expertise in that area and create ICAN’s Garden Club. This group now meets with Tom twice each week and have enjoyed a number of seasons of harvests, finishing each with a “salad party” to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Volunteers like Carla and Mary Jo – retired school teachers with a passion for literacy who manage ICAN’s library and work one-on-one with youth to increase literacy. Volunteers like Helen, who comes to ICAN 2 days every week – welcoming youth with a warm smile (and many times a hug as well) as they check into ICAN and start their afternoon. These are the experiences that cannot be valued in hours and dollars. These volunteers support ICAN’s program staff – allowing them to carefully plan their lessons and ensure that the time spent with youth is impacting them with enriching life skills and academic enrichment opportunities.

IntelliSchool Vol Chandler 02 26 15We strive to create a culture of volunteerism. Even ICAN youth are learning the importance of volunteering – they participate in community service projects to give back to the community who is supporting them. Our teens recently visited Feed My Starving Children and packed food boxes for the hungry. With our youth, even simple projects like picking up trash around the building help create that culture of civic engagement.  Our staff also participate in a community service activity each year as a group.

We have over 250,000 residents in the City of Chandler – imagine the impact it would make if every person volunteered – even just one hour a month. ICAN is part of the “For Our City” initiative, which is a collaboration of businesses, local government, faith-based communities, and nonprofits. This group organizes various service projects throughout the year and helps to connect volunteers with organizations. I encourage everyone to join in ICAN’s culture of volunteerism. Maybe you already volunteer at your child’s school – that is great! Could you spare one more hour each month to help someone else in need? There are tons of volunteer opportunities, right here in Chandler, and throughout the valley – providing experiences that not only benefit those in need, but provide life-enriching experiences for volunteers willing to help.