In a tough economy nonprofits turn to volunteers for help - Ahwatukee Foothills News: News

In a tough economy nonprofits turn to volunteers for help

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Posted: Sunday, July 31, 2011 8:00 am | Updated: 11:47 am, Thu Aug 4, 2011.

In a tough economy, many lose their jobs and their income while Valley nonprofits struggle for donations. But some organizations are seeing an increase of volunteers as those without jobs look to stay busy.

"I feel more and more people who have been laid off, or retired, or just between jobs are finding a great deal of satisfaction in volunteering and it is also a great way to keep their skills sharp," said Judith Gardner, president and chief executive officer of the Arizona Animal Welfare League (AAWL).

Gardner says in the few years she has been the CEO, she's seen a great increase in volunteers but a decrease in donations.

"There are more people giving, but they are giving smaller amounts," Gardner said. "I do think the community has recognized the need to adopt pets from a no-kill shelter like AAWL & SPCA and our adoptions have increased more than 100 percent compared to just three years ago.

"However, the amount of money people are donating has definitely dropped."

It's a similar story across the Valley and it's especially hard when organizations like AAWL are trying to raise money to expand their shelter.

UMOM New Day Centers, the state's largest homeless shelter, is going through the same thing.

"UMOM underwent a fairly major transformation just as the recession hit," said Michelle Davidson, public relations manager for UMOM. "We launched a $23 million capital campaign in 2005 to enable the agency to move from the old, crumbling remnants of the Sands Hotel on the north side of Van Buren into the renovated structures of the Days Inn and Super 8 on the south side. In September of 2009 we completed the ‘move-over' and that nearly doubled our capacity.

"So, as our capacity has increased we have definitely seen a rise in the need for volunteers. And we have been fortunate enough to meet that need, for the most part."

Davidson attributes the group's success in finding help to their dedication to keeping volunteers and more awareness in the community.

"The agency saw an increase in awareness among our volunteer sources like churches, corporate groups and youth groups, that the recession was pushing many families out of stable housing and into homelessness," Davidson said. "The combination of a full-time, professional staff to foster and grow volunteer involvement and the realization in the community that budget cuts and the recession have hit vulnerable families with a double-whammy have enabled UMOM to continue to grow, to continue to serve needy families, and to continue to educate the community about families experiencing homelessness."

Local nonprofits like the YMCA Outreach Program for Ahwatukee Seniors (YOPAS) have also seen a decrease in funding but they've been able to find dedicated volunteers who recognize a need.

Linda Jochim, community outreach specialist for YOPAS, says the need is definitely up and though they are in dire need of more people she has seen many volunteers go above and beyond to help.

"We are very busy all the time trying to fill the requests that do come in," Jochim said. "We've always made it but we really do have to scramble. I've got the best band of volunteers in the world.

"We have never turned somebody down because we can't find someone. I have seen people leave the office to take someone some place if it's a true emergency. We need a week's notice, but I have seen someone leave the office to help."

Jochim said in the past year one of the grants for their program was cut but it has not affected the organization's services.

Rick Large, board president of St. Joseph's Youth Camp, says the tough economy hasn't really affected their non-profit summer camp.

In fact, this year has been the busiest in the past decade, even when they raised their prices.

"We were way under-priced for what we do," Large said. "I think the success is due in part to a couple things. We're not outrageously priced and we offer something to the kids that the kids are going to remember for a lifetime."

St. Joseph's Youth Camp has been around for more than 60 years and Large says most of their volunteers are past campers who set a goal to come back and be a counselor.

This year they had 40 counselors in training, which is up about 10 percent from past years.

When it comes to donations, Large says there's always a need but just by asking around they've been able to find a solution.

"We have 18 buildings on the property," Large said. "Say, for example, we need a roof. I'll ask around if anyone knows anyone in the roofing industry or anyone who knows how to do roofing.

"There are some construction people out there, especially now in this economy, that don't have work and they'd rather just stay busy and come out and help us."

Large is hoping to grow the camp in the future just like UMOM and AAWL, who are working toward more growth for their own organizations.

UMOM is $4 million away from finishing its capital campaign that was started in 2005, and AAWL is just beginning work to raise $3 million for its own capital campaign.

AAWL and UMOM have expanded ways people can volunteer or donate as a way to save money and cut down operating costs.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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