They come from all walks of life, armed with skills ranging from CEO to drywaller. Without them, children would not be able to read, seniors would miss meals and Christmas simply would not come to some East Valley households.
Volunteers are abundant at this time of year, stuffing stockings and packaging holiday feasts. But all year,thousands offer their time and talents to East Valley nonprofit organizations.
It’s not just the retired and the well-to-do. Somehow, multi-tasking high school students and folks with full-time jobs and families still manage to carve out time each week to give to local nonprofits.
"We simply could not do it without them," said Margaret Rosenhan, volunteer coordinator at Scottsdale’s Vista del Camino Center. The social service agency offers food and clothing banks, job training, counseling, emergency assistance and senior programs, among other things.
At the East Valley Child Crisis Center in Mesa, volunteer Mark Fordyce helps children with their homework once a week. The volunteer work began as a public relations event for his Phoenix flooring company, but evolved over the past few years into something personal.
"It just makes me a whole person," said Fordyce, who commutes across the Valley to the crisis center. "I think it’s as good for me as it is for the kids."
Many volunteers begin with a holiday project, as Fordyce did, and get hooked. Making sure they know they are valued and how their work benefits others is key to retaining volunteers, said Vista del Camino director Rita Koppinger.
"Our window of opportunity is at the holidays," she said. "They see how much they are needed here and then they come back."
More than half of all Valley residents do some kind of volunteer work, including time spent at their neighborhood schools or churches, according to a recent study by Arizona State University’s Center for Nonprofit Leadership and Management. That’s above the national average of 44 percent.
Women are more likely to volunteer than men, as are those with incomes above $150,000. Eighty percent of those who do not volunteer said they were never asked, according to the study.
For nonprofit agencies, volunteers are like customers: The business relies on them. So agencies try to determine what motivates people to volunteer as well as how to keep them.
"We kind of know what keeps people volunteering, what makes them happy," said Lenore Parker, program services director for the Volunteer Center of Maricopa County. "We really struggle with . . . how do you turn an interested volunteer into an active volunteer?"
The center refers more than 30,000 volunteers a year to charitable organizations throughout the Valley. A recent study of local nonprofits showed that volunteers want training, social interaction, to feel that they are valued and to have contact with the people they are helping.
At Vista del Camino last year, 240 volunteers donated nearly 8,200 hours. Sue Gilliam first brought her daughter, Kim, during a back-toschool drive a few years ago.
Now a senior at Xavier College Preparatory, captain of the diving team, a member of the National Honors Society and active in her church, Kim completed the community service hours required for graduation but still finds time to come back to Vista del Camino.
"It’s just very rewarding," said Kim, 17. "To be able to make a difference in someone’s life, or even in their day."
Kim said she enjoys helping children select backpacks during the back-to-school drive and toys during Christmas.
Volunteers, such as Sue Gilliam, are front-line workers at the clothing and food banks, and during holiday food and toy drives.
"The rewarding part for me is the direct contact," she said. "I think more people would volunteer if they had more direct access to what they really do."
Ron Classen volunteered for the Mesa Senior Services Caring Corps to earn college credit, but continued to help East Valley seniors get their groceries after completing his course work. Classen, a senior clinical coordinator for Banner Health, clears several hours from his schedule each week to take seniors grocery shopping.
"It’s a good idea to see the other side of the coin," Classen said. "How people are living and trying to get by."
The Caring Corps would not exist without volunteers, who offer much-needed company while helping seniors meet appointments, run errands and do minor home repairs.
Volunteers don’t change the number of children who come through the doors of the Child Crisis Center, but they affect just about everything else.
"The volunteers bring in energy, extra hands and extra eyes and extra love," said Donna Buckles, director of volunteer services. "When you’ve got 15 kids running around and two staff, they can’t possibly give all the children the attention that they need."
Helping abused and neglected children is a natural draw for many people, and the center makes the most of its volunteers by adapting to their schedules. About 175 volunteers help care for the children, work in the center’s thrift store or help with fundraisers and other community events. Some drop by after work to help wriggling toddlers into baths, pajamas and bed. Others to read bedtime stories.
"It takes a lot of hands to get all of that done," Buckles said. "Our volunteers just play a key role in the quality of the care we’re able to give the children."
• Volunteer Center of Maricopa County, (602) 263-9736, or www.volunteerphoenix.org. The center refers volunteers to nonprofit organizations throughout the Valley.
• Vista del Camino Center, (480) 312-2323. Scottsdale’s primary social service agency.
• East Valley Child Crisis Center, (480) 969-2308, or www.childcrisis.org. Provides temporary shelter for children in crisis.
• Mesa Senior Services, (480) 962-5612, or www.mesaseniorservices.com.
Meals, transportation, recreation, education and other services for seniors.