Volunteer Wayne loses state funding
By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on November 23, 2008 2:00 AM
More than 30 students and parents from North Drive Elementary bundled up Saturday to deliver flowerpots to residents of Fairview Housing Development as part of Family Volunteer Day, a project coordinated, in part, by Volunteer Wayne.
State budget cuts will force Volunteer Wayne, a program that connects thousands of volunteers with nonprofit and charitable organizations in Wayne County, to close its doors Dec. 31.
Wayne Community College cannot afford to continue sponsoring the program due to funding cutbacks, Volunteer Wayne Director Barbara Stiles said.
"I'm devastated, but I don't want to go there," Mrs. Stiles said.
The program was created in 2003 to match volunteers of all ages with one of the nearly 70 charitable and nonprofit groups and organizations operating in Wayne County.
"We've had volunteers as young as 3 out there," Mrs. Stiles said.
Contributors donated an estimated $828,768 in person-hours to the local community in 2007.
Penny Withrow, president of the Volunteer Wayne/RSVP advisory council, said it was "disheartening to know there won't be a centralized point" to help volunteers connect with service opportunities in the area.
People in Wayne County, especially high school seniors, might have a more difficult time completing community service projects without the program.
"Schools were really beginning to rely on Volunteer Wayne because of senior projects," said Tara Humphries, public relations coordinator for Wayne Community College and member of the Volunteer Wayne board.
"It's going to be very difficult for my son and everyone else's child to know where opportunities exist," Mrs. Withrow said.
Even as the deadline approaches, Volunteer Wayne continues building bridges to help volunteers reach out to others.
Thirty students and parents from North Drive Elementary School bundled up Saturday morning against a cutting cold wind to deliver pansies to elderly residents of the Fairview housing development, as part of a Volunteer Wayne-affiliated outreach.
The Family Volunteer Day event, sponsored by a grant from the Points of Light Institute and The Walt Disney Co., was a service learning project directed by Wayne Community College Honors College students Connie Henn, Sanjita Patel, Allison Rawleigh and Adrienne Yates.
"One of our missions is to reach out to the community and try to bring the community together," honors coordinator Tara Bass said. "Volunteer Wayne has been instrumental in getting this particular service learning project going."
Losing the program could be detrimental to the college, Bass added.
Volunteer Wayne applied for the Family Volunteer Day grant and helped with the planning stages, and Mrs. Stiles attended the event.
The Honors College students "just took it and ran with it," she said.
Tameika Suggs was one of the many parents who attended Family Volunteer Day to donate her time in support of her children and city.
"It's something to let the community know we care," she said.
Shaniah McBride, 9, said she enjoyed decorating and delivering the pots of flowers despite the cold weather.
"It's good to help people at Thanksgiving," she said. "It feels great."
The service project proved that "you don't have to go away from home to make a difference," Ms. Henn said.
The event was the last Volunteer Wayne-supported project scheduled before the end of the year, Mrs. Stiles said, although the organization will continue to connect volunteers with opportunities during the holiday season.
The program leaders said they need to find a new sponsor immediately to keep their doors open when 2009 dawns.
"Timing is the big issue here," Mrs. Withrow said. "Dec. 31 is rolling around. We are diligently searching for sponsorship."
"Unless we have a sponsor there's no point going forward," Mrs. Stiles said.
It would take about $40,000 to keep the program operating, she said.
Volunteer Wayne also needs office space and tech support for hosting and maintaining the organization's Web sites.
"When you think of that amount leveraged with the $828,768, that's a very small expense," Mrs. Stiles said.
The efforts of local volunteers have not gone unnoticed outside of Wayne County. Ms. Henn was recently selected to participate in the American Association of Community Colleges' national scholarship competition, and Louise Faison, a Volunteer Wayne service member with the Girl Scouts, was chosen last week to receive the North Carolina Medallion for Outstanding Volunteer Service.
The Medallion, presented by the N.C. Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, is given to only 20 people across the state. Three other Volunteer Wayne contributors have received the honor in the past two years.
Mrs. Stiles will continue to serve as director of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, which will not be affected by the budget cuts.
Ms. Humphries said volunteer coordinator Joy Pearce, whose salary came from the dismantled budget, has already been employed in another capacity at the college.
The Volunteer Wayne and Wayne Teen Zone Web sites will be taken down Dec. 31.
Mrs. Withrow, Ms. Hum-phries and Mrs. Stiles said they were grateful to Wayne Community College and to everyone who donated their time to the organization.
"We want to thank the community for their support and willingness to volunteer," Mrs. Withrow said.
Even if the end of the year marks the end of the program, Volunteer Wayne will live on in spirit through its dedicated contributors. Ms. Henn plans to apply next year for a grant to continue funding Family Volunteer Day, and said her fellow honors students expressed an interest in returning to help, too.
"I'm going to stay involved," she said. "These children have touched my heart, and I really want to help them."
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