Keeping Those Pledges Coming In

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED

November 15, 1992|By HELEN B. JONES %

If your task is to raise volunteer hours -- lots of hours -- for a worthy cause, you'd better be someone who doesn't take no for an answer. Sandra Vogel is just such a person. As the coordinator since 1990 of Maryland Public Television's Project Reach Out, Ms. Vogel knocks on the doors and rings up the phones of companies big and small, seeking workers willing to donate their time to public schools in the region.

As if that isn't enough, she puts together the station's Project Reach Out telethon, held every September to recognize those companies and to let individuals (and businesses she may have missed) get in on the act of volunteering.

The project, begun in 1988, raised 110,000 volunteer hours the year before Ms. Vogel took over. In her first year she increased the number to 295,000. Last year it tripled to nearly 900,000. Deciding that there was nowhere to go but up, she set her sights this year on 1 million hours. She got first lady Barbara Bush to tape a message of support for the program, talked the Broadway star of "Les Miserables" into performing live and found 95 people to take the calls.

When the phones stopped jangling and the numbers on the tote board were added up, Ms. Vogel had surpassed her goal: 1.2 million volunteer hours had been pledged.

Q: Why did the numbers begin skyrocketing after you took over? What's your secret?

A: First, I truly believed in MPT's efforts to mobilize volunteers for education; this provided my motivation. Second, I knew I had to expand the base of support for Project Reach Out, so I began to network with the business community. By calling and calling every single day, I established a solid relationship and ensured their participation in the project. You could say I'm goal-oriented, tenacious and persistent.

Q: When did you begin work on this year's telethon?

A: In January. There are a lot of elements and components involved. It's a three-hour, live program. I have to get underwriting in place, arrange for publicity, contact the school districts and our simulcast partners [WJZ-TV, and WJLA-TV in Washington] and get telethon workers.

Q: How does the volunteerism work? You get a pledge from a company or individual and then what?

A: We got calls from 23 of the 24 subdivisions. MPT connects the volunteers with schools in their districts. It's up to the schools to find out their interests and place them. We sometimes hear back from the volunteers -- about how much they enjoy what they're doing. In the future, I'd like to do more follow-up work.

Q: What's the most amount of time pledged?

A: The numbers are very nice and we have to have them because we have that tote board up there and that's how we build momentum. But, in reality, what's important is what they [pledgers] give to the kids in school and that they give it on a regular basis.

L Q: Well then, who are some of the people behind the pledges?

A: There's a retired businessman who goes every week to a city school to read poetry to the children. A group of parents in Harford County volunteered to start an art program in a school that didn't have one. A sorority pledged 100 hours. And there's a huge federal agency whose workers have volunteered a total of 47,000 hours.

Q: Do you think it's easier to raise hours than money?

A: I think it is. It's an emotional issue in a sense. I think people sincerely want to make an effort to help. You hear so much about education and our schools.

Q: Are you hearing from people in other areas who want to start similar projects?

A: We get calls from TV stations all around the country. Dallas tried a telethon, and Arizona just had one. I also hear from education associations that are interested in what we do. This is seen as an innovative concept, as the power of television to mobilize.

Q: Has this project become a personal mission for you?

A: It has become that, perhaps because I get so emotionally involved with all these people. You realize how much caring there is out there.

Q: Do you volunteer yourself?

A: I haven't yet but I intend to. Also, MPT is instituting a "shadow day" this year. Students will come to the office and follow an employee around all day. I'll have someone following me.

Q: What's your goal for next year?

A: You have to surpass what you did the year before. I can't imagine how I'm going to do that but I hope I'll find a way. I know I want to make sure that more and more people learn about the benefits of volunteering.

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