By Cindy Iutzi
The Volunteer Center of the Big River Region has become a reality.
Driven by a group of Keokuk area residents and funded by a Volunteer Generation Fund Grant of $68,467, the new volunteer clearinghouse will provide a way to match people’s time with service.
“In many areas, volunteerism is the backbone of Keokuk’s success,” said Dev Kiedaisch, a longtime area volunteer who spearheaded the project. “The new volunteer center will augment volunteer efforts through a coordinated, sustainable approach that matches a volunteer’s interest to a community need.”
Kiedaisch is one of more than 20 area residents who have worked since February to develop the concept and find the money to make it work.
Faced with a 10-day window to submit a grant application for a Volunteer Generation Fund Grant, the group decided to go for it, according to Debbie Marion, executive director of Big River United Way.
“If the people who did this had not gone through what they did to get in the application, the center would not have funding today,” she said.
Big River United Way invited the volunteer center to be part of its organization, giving the new center access to United Way’s nonprofit status.
“After careful research and conversations with other United Way organizations that partner with volunteer centers, we made the decision to team up with the center,” said Marion. “We see it as one more way for us to make efficient and effective use of the time, talent and knowledge of area volunteers while improving their volunteer experience.”
“The 501(c)(3) process is expensive,” Kiedaisch said. “Several volunteer centers in Iowa already work with United Way, and United Way works on health, education and financial sustainability.”
Volunteer Center of the Big River Region will list volunteer needs for any nonprofit community organization including established United Way partners, she said.
Representatives of several nonprofit agencies, the schools, city and county provided input and assistance as the group researched volunteerism, visited and talked to several volunteer center coordinators in Iowa and worked with the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service. The Keokuk Area Community Foundation’s financial assistance and support also allowed the project to go forward.
“We feel it is imperative to the sustainability of the center to have a paid coordinator,” said Kiedaisch.
The coordinator will work a 25-hour week with time divided between a virtual and mobile office, Kiedaisch said.
“We would like him or her to have an office somewhere,” she said. “Because it all will be online, that will be great for the youth, but maybe not for older volunteers. (The coordinator) will be at the library, mall, Southeastern Community College and other places.”
The volunteer center and its coordinator will work “hand in hand with Konnections,” Kiedaisch said, referring to Keokuk’s middle and high school student volunteer group.
About 10 applications for the job have been received and interviews will be set up soon.
In addition to providing funds necessary to hire and train a volunteer coordinator, the Volunteer Generation Fund grant also will assist in the purchase of office equipment and Volunteer Solutions software.
Volunteer Solutions software provides access to a national website where nonprofit agencies, schools and cities can post their volunteer needs and volunteers can register their skills, interests, geographical area and times they are available. It also makes it possible to calculate the number of volunteers, their hours served, and other data to track the progress and effectiveness of various volunteer efforts.
With a mission to promote an atmosphere of volunteerism and foster civic engagement by connecting people with opportunities to serve, the Volunteer Center of the Big River Region seeks to improve the lives of recipients and volunteers and benefit the community, according to the group’s mission and vision statements.
The Volunteer Generation Fund is a new program authorized by the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, designed to increase the number of people who serve in meaningful roles as volunteers dedicated to addressing important needs in communities across America, according to the www.nationalservice.gov website.
The grant will be administered by the Iowa Commission of Volunteer Services. Representatives of the commission will meet with volunteer center organizers next week in Keokuk.
“There are quite a few volunteer centers in Iowa,” Kiedaisch said. “Iowa has been No. 2 in volunteerism in the nation.”
To learn more about the Volunteer Center and its program of work, contact Kiedaisch at 524-3935 or Marion at 524.4504.