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Volunteer Center growing

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By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — In the two weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the Volunteer Center of Greensboro fielded more than 4,000 phone calls from local residents wanting to help.

Katrina led to stronger working ties than ever with United Way of Greater Greensboro and with the local chapter of the American Red Cross, says Robin Lindsey, executive director.

And to better handle the outpouring of volunteers, at least double the number it had worked with in all of 2004, the center hired two part-time volunteer coordinators.

Hired through a $14,000 grant from the Greensboro Care Fund raised by United Way to address Katrina evacuees’ needs, those part-timers coordinated volunteers who contacted and tried to place the volunteers phoning in to help.

“We tried to connect them with local nonprofit that were suddenly taking in hundreds more people than they were already serving,” says Robin Lindsey, executive director.

Spun off in the mid-1970s from United Way of Greater Greensboro, the Volunteer Center in the wake of Katrina is working to cope with growing need among local agencies for volunteers and more effective operations.

The center operates with an annual budget of just over $300,000, with roughly one-third each from United Way, special events and a combination of annual giving and grants.

To increase annual giving in 2006, the center plans to renew relationships with past donors, board members and other friends, and develop new relationships.

It has secured a three-month renewal of it grant from the Greensboro Care Fund so its part-time volunteer coordinators can continue working through March.

In addition to those two part-timers, the center employs five staffers.

The center is among dozens of local human-service agencies convened by United Way to form the Guilford County Resolution Council in response to the Katrina evacuees’ needs.

That group is assessing local response, and looking for ways that the agencies can continue working together, Lindsey says.

After meeting to plan and coordinate their response to Katrina, for example, the agencies held a separate two-day session at Christ United Methodist Church to meet with evacuees, who also could meet there with representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The agencies also learned through Katrina about the value of teamwork and media exposure, Lindsey says.

“We learned how to work together even better through this,” she says, “and with the help of the media, we can focus on continuing to address our existing community needs.”

As part of its ongoing effort to connect volunteers to nonprofits, and to promote volunteerism, the Volunteer Center has developed partnerships with the News & Record, which runs a weekly profile of a volunteer, and with WFMY News 2, which runs a weekly volunteer feature and interview.

The center also supports local nonprofits through a range of services.

It conducts four to six training sessions a year on topics such as fundraising, and sponsors an annual fundraising event for nonprofits.

The event, which is known as “The Human Race” and will be held March 25, has raised over $2 million for local nonprofits in the past 12 years.

And the center recently joined the Points of Light Foundation’s 1-800-Volunteer.org initiative, an online matching service that lets volunteers and nonprofits submit information, respectively, about their interests and needs.

“We connect people,” Lindsey says. “It’s our mission to make meaningful volunteer connections to address community needs.”

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