Nonprofits struggle due to lack of student volunteers

By Aidan Finn, Staff Writer

With the ever stressful comings and goings of regaining normalcy from the pandemic continuing, a sector of activity that has been especially harmed during the prolonged lockdown, are the various volunteer driven organizations across both Illinois and the nation as a whole. During the year, many students who admire such causes couldn’t find the time or organization needed to properly volunteer.

Benjamin Arango Navar, freshman majoring in LAS, struggled to find time amidst work.

“I couldn’t do much as I had too much school work,” Navar said. “My job, in the student-housing cafeteria, takes a good amount of time each week.”

Caleb Berry, freshman in Business, also wasn’t compelled to volunteer due to external factors from jobs and hobbies.

“When I’m done working, I want to relax,” Berry said.

University students with more free time during summer break who want to provide volunteer aid to better their communities and beyond can find several welcoming operations ongoing in both the Champaign and greater Illinois area.

One such team is the folks at Habitat for Humanity. The Jimmy Carter fueled organization aimed to bettering lives since the 1970’s. Greatly evolved from it’s Georgia roots, it has undertaken several international projects, famously with building homes through the power of volunteers.

Habitat ReStores are independently owned storefronts that aim to help small communities by accepting donations of used furniture and appliances to sell inexpensively back to the public as opposed to retail price. Saving such from wasteful landfills and aiding families wanting to better their home without breaking the bank, combining environmental activism and anti-poverty practices.

At the Chicago location of ReStore, Rakim Ward, store processing coordinator, was unloading a donated kitchen cabinet onto a dolly.

Ward is like many workers at ReStore, friendly and willing to help.

“I just like the idea of doing good work,” Ward said. “Helping the community, helping people by taking items they don’t want and finding a good use other than the landfill.”

Alas, the effort by the team and volunteers is not without hardship, Ward said.

“It has really slowed down, a lot less people,” Ward said. “For obvious reasons. We are noticing a surge of volunteers as of late.”

Charlie Garb, lead shipping and handling facilitator, also had input on the matter.

“I love the organization, I have loved it for a long time,” Garb said. “People who can’t get home loans through a bank can get home loans through the organization, helping them build credit and move out of poverty. That is what this country is all about.”

Garb is encouraging people to volunteer as the team has seen trouble in the aftermath of lockdowns and economic downturn.

“It decimated it,” Garb said. “We canceled all volunteers, all of them completely for just about a year. It was about a year till people started volunteering again and we let them in. Since they started coming back, we have lost several regular volunteers who would have been here if it were not for the pandemic. It has affected us that way, so we are in need of a series of more volunteers, to finally get back to full volunteer capacity.”

Habitat is not the only organization open to volunteer work and not the closest either. The American Red Cross of Central Illinois, a local outpost of the massive charity organization, has volunteers representing more than 90% of the workforce, helping respond to disasters, staff blood drives, assist military families, teach lifesaving skills and much more. Isis Chaverri, regional communications manager of the Illinois branch, spoke about the diverse range of services offered by its team.

“When a home fire leaves a family stranded on the street, local Red Cross volunteers provide emergency financial assistance, emotional support and help determining their next steps,” Chaverri said. “During COVID-19, volunteers often deliver this support virtually by working with the local fire department to connect with affected residents by phone or video call.”

Charverri empahsized how students can easily sign up for such programs through their website.

Those seeking a more close to campus experience and are lost at where to go can be pointed to Office of Volunteer Programs at the University of Illinois. April Garrison, senior program coordinator of the office, spoke extensively about the many opportunities for students looking for close-to-home volunteer work.

“OVP works primarily with student volunteers,” Garrison said. “Students can participate in donation drives, park clean-ups, participatory research projects organized by the OVP, event registration and event set up for office events such as the MLK Jr. Day of Reflection (formerly known as the Day of Service), they can join virtual voting campaigns, work on a Service Saturdays or participate in weekend service trips.”

The office prioritizes connecting students with nonprofits and local schools to serve as tutors and mentors, with researchers to work on computer programing projects, and anyone in the community looking for assistance with social media and website development for their nonprofit or small business.

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