Hands On Charlotte boosts volunteerism

Lisa Quisenberry
Lisa Quisenberry

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In February, during a training session at The Ballantyne Hotel and Lodge, roughly 100 employees from throughout the world of Charlotte-based Goodrich assembled 10 mountain bikes for the nonprofit Trips for Kids Charlotte, and also assembled about 500 care kits for the Greater Carolinas Chapter of the American Red Cross.

That service component of the training session was organized by Hands On Charlotte, a nonprofit that promotes volunteerism and, since January, has handled all employee volunteerism for Goodrich.

Outsourcing its volunteer program to Hands On Charlotte lets the company’s one-person community-relations office do more with limited resources, while providing it with customized volunteer opportunities that are professionally created and managed, says Kelly Chopus, director of community relations for Goodrich.

Goodrich, which employs 25,000 people, including about 500 in Charlotte and Monroe, is one of about 20 companies and 150 nonprofits for which Hands On Charlotte matches volunteers with volunteer opportunities, says Lisa Quisenberry, the organization’s executive director.

Quisenberry was part of a group of 15 young professionals who formed Hands On Charlotte 20 years ago because they wanted to get involved in volunteering but found traditional vehicles for volunteering did not offer the flexible volunteer time they wanted.

Operating with an annual budget of $350,000 and a staff of three people working full-time and one working part-time, plus four AmeriCorps volunteers and one VISTA volunteers, Hands On Charlotte in 2010 coordinated over 32,400 volunteer hours and filled over 14,700 volunteer slots for over 1,900 projects.

Those numbers were up 47 percent, 53 percent and 59 percent, respectively, from the previous year.

Its program for youth, for example, serves roughly 200 teens ages 14 to 18, matching them with adult volunteers for tasks such as sorting donated food at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina.

A separate program connects volunteers with five partner schools in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, plus KIPP Academy, a charter school.

School volunteers, for example, eat lunch with students while helping them with their studies, or handle tasks for teachers such as copying handouts for students.

And every Friday, the school volunteers stock backpacks with food at the food bank and then deliver them to four elementary schools and distribute the food to students, who take it home for their families.

The VISTA worker, who is based at Thomasboro Elementary School in West Charlotte, works at the school and in the Thomasboro-Hoskins neighborhood, training local residents to serve as volunteers.

In the fall of 2009, for example, the VISTA volunteer coordinated development by 10 partner organizations of a community garden in the neighborhood.

For its corporate partners such as Goodrich, Premier, The Home Depot, US Airways and Fidelity, Hands On Charlotte offers a broad range of customized services.

Those include developing a corporate volunteerism strategy, managing corporate volunteerism programs and organizing a day of service for employees.

Quisenberry says she is seeing a rise in demand from nonprofits for volunteers and from corporations for volunteer opportunities for their employees.

In January, for example, Hands On Charlotte fielded 200 new volunteers, the most ever in a single month.

The nonprofit in July will launch a new web-based volunteer-management system that can be customized for its corporate and faith partners.

And on May 20, to celebrate its 20th anniversary, it will sponsor “20 Hours of Service,” an event that will let volunteer tag-teams work on a project for a total of 20 hours each.

With federally-supported public-service programs like the parent organization of VISTA under attack in Congress, Quisenberry says volunteerism is not about politics.

“We all as humans serve regardless of political differences,” she says. “It’s not a partisan thing. Service is for everyone.”

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