Volunteer Carroll in crisis

Nonprofit organization seeks financial assistance from community

May 21, 2006|By GINA DAVIS | GINA DAVIS,SUN REPORTER

Volunteer Carroll, an organization founded on a principle of helping people give back to their communities, has recently found itself on the verge of a financial crisis, and its leaders are reaching out to the community for help.

The organization was created in 1999 through a partnership of McDaniel College, Carroll Community College, the Carroll County public school system and Carroll County public library to create a guide that residents could use to find volunteer opportunities.

Several years after its founding, Volunteer Carroll has grown in its reach - including providing throngs of volunteers for such endeavors as the county's annual disaster-preparedness drill - and has become an integral player in linking up volunteers with the agencies that rely on extra help.

But the organization's leader says that if she can't secure enough funding and additional volunteers to help staff the group's offices in Westminster, she may be forced to curtail its efforts.

"We're not miracle workers," said Judi Johnson, executive director of Volunteer Carroll. "We have people who have expectations of what we can deliver and we would like to be able to do that. ... But we need funds to hire people to help deliver on all the things that a volunteer center can deliver to a community."

She said an ideal annual funding level would be "just under $100,000," in addition to the continuation of in-kind donations, such as its rent-free offices on the first floor of the county's nonprofit center.

Last month, the county commissioners rejected Volunteer Carroll's request for $78,000 to cover the salaries of three employees - an executive director and two support staff members.

"Often the commissioners will think something is a good idea but they still have to say no" because of limited funding, said Ted Zaleski, Carroll's director of management and budget. "There are always more things that we can identity to fund than there is money to do it."

Volunteer Carroll is a component group of the Community Foundation of Carroll County, a nonprofit organization that receives, invests and distributes funds for charitable, cultural and educational purposes throughout the county.

Being connected with the Community Foundation allows the organization to save setup and administrative costs and gives it the benefit of the foundation's nonprofit status.

Over the years, Volunteer Carroll has been funded with money such as a $50,000 two-year grant that it shared with the local school system.

The grant came from the Youth Ready to Respond initiative sponsored by Learn and Serve America and the Points of Light Foundation.

Including Johnson, the group has two staff members, who are paid nominal salaries but volunteer many hours of additional time each week. Its 520-square- foot facilities include a reception area and two offices that have been furnished with donated goods. But telephones have not been connected because the group can't afford the bill, Johnson said. Instead, staff members use personal cell phones for the center's business.

In addition to money, the group needs county residents with particular expertise - such as marketing and fundraising - to support its administrative needs, Johnson said.

Among other functions, the organization has helped local agencies, such as the Bureau of Aging and the public school system, promote activities, recruit and train volunteers.

The volunteer guide that was the impetus for Volunteer Carroll has since blossomed into a Web site with a registry of more than 250 agencies with volunteer opportunities.

On the Web site, volunteers can conduct a customized search of the database that matches their interests with positions that are available.

The Web site has served as a clearinghouse of information for students, who must complete 75 hours of volunteer service to earn their high school diploma.

Volunteer Carroll provides such a specialized service that it would be dearly missed if it didn't exist or had to scale back, said Estelle Sanzenbacher, coordinator of youth development and service opportunities with the county school system.

"It does something that no one else does," she said.

Sanzenbacher said that when the county was smaller, it was easier to recruit volunteers.

But with the population continuing to grow - and with the nation's increased focus on disaster preparedness in light of such events as the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks - the task of connecting volunteers with needy agencies had grown more complicated and daunting.

"The demographics of our community have changed," she said. "This is a growing community."

Erin Inman, the center's project manager, said Volunteer Carroll's future might be tied to how much longer she and Johnson can continue to donate their time.

"As much as I would love to continue, the reality is I'm a young mother with two children," Inman said. "We really are very passionate about civic engagement and community service, which has gotten us very far on very little."

gina.davis@baltsun.com

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