Empowering Hands:The Heart of Volunteering in the Cedar Valley

posted on Wednesday, April 3, 2024 in The Cedar Valley Community

April, celebrated as National Volunteer Month, is a time to recognize the transformative power of volunteering. In the heart of the Cedar Valley, a remarkable spirit of community and collaboration thrives, largely fueled by the passion and dedication of its volunteers. 

We had the delight of meeting with the inspiring women leading the charge at the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley (VCCV)—Lauren Finke, Jean Seeland, and Kelsey Umthun. Together, they're bridging the gap between individuals eager to lend their time and skills and organizations in need of support. Join us as we dive into the world of volunteering through their eyes, uncovering the profound impact and passion that fuel their work and how it shapes our community.

Volunteer Center of the Cedar Valley

The Compass for Potential Volunteers

For someone eager to volunteer but unsure where to start, Lauren Finke, â€‹Executive Director, offers guidance for potential volunteers at the VCCV. She says, "People who live in the Cedar Valley are so lucky to have a resource like the VCCV. Whether you know exactly what you're after or are completely unaware of the experiences available, our team is here to support you. We'll help you talk through your interests, understand your expectations, and share opportunities for you to get engaged!"

Matching Volunteers with Opportunities

When asked how the VCCV connects individuals with the perfect volunteering opportunities, Lauren emphasizes the personalized approach the Volunteer Center takes. She explains, "The VCCV partners alongside many different mission-driven organizations from health and human service opportunities like supporting housing or food insecurity to arts and culture needs at an art center, nature-related experiences, and supporting community initiatives to name a few. The great thing about the work we do is that we have conversations with those interested in volunteering and from there are able to suggest some good options that fit. It's really all about learning a person's why and then relationship building."

Building Community Through Volunteering

Lauren addresses the impact of volunteering on community and relationship building, stating, "There are so many benefits to volunteering, from personal satisfaction to healthy living and even resume building. But one of the overall best things about volunteering is the opportunity to connect with someone else, learn something new, and provide your assistance. It's about making those personal and professional connections that enrich both the volunteer's and the recipient's lives, creating a stronger, more cohesive community."

Celebrating Success

The Volunteer Center (VCCV) has been instrumental in connecting individuals with meaningful volunteer opportunities, leading to remarkable stories of impact and empowerment. A shining example of this is the AmeriCorps Seniors RSVP program, which has seen a thrilling year under the guidance of Kelsey, Jake, and Ashley. By focusing on individuals aged 55 and older, the program has fostered connections with 436 volunteers across Black Hawk, Buchanan, and Fayette Counties, engaging them in areas like Tax-Aide, disaster volunteer support, and the Reading Buddies program in four different school districts.

One heartwarming tale from the Tax-Aide program involves a client who, having become wheelchair-bound and without transportation, found himself in distress, unable to reach the tax aide site for the service he had relied on for years. Nancy, a dedicated RSVP tax-aide volunteer familiar with the client's taxes, offered to pick him up and bring him to the site, exemplifying the volunteers' commitment to removing barriers and ensuring that clients receive the assistance they need.

The Reading Buddies program boasts its own success story with volunteer Don in Buchanan County. Initially hesitant, Don decided to give the program a try and was glad he did:

“When it was first mentioned that Reading Buddies was being initiated in our schools, I wasn’t sure I had the time to fit this into my schedule, so the first year I did nothing. But this year, during signups, I thought it was time for me to try.

I am so glad I did. I have two, 2nd grade students that I spend 15 minutes with each, once a week. What is so great is these students get to choose what they are going to read so it is about something they like.

One of my students reads very well and can sound out most words. But he sometimes reads too fast, so we are trying to slow down a little to be sure we understand what the story is about. Some days he asks, can we just talk today, and of course we do that. We have some wonderful conversations about his toys, and all of the things he is doing with his family”. 

Jean, the VCCV's Youth Program Coordinator, reinforces the value of service-learning by sharing an inspiring story from Highland Elementary in Waterloo. First-grade students, eager to support unhoused individuals in their community, created holiday gift bags filled with homemade scarves, Kleenex, hand sanitizer, and candy canes, which were then distributed through the Hospitality House. "These first graders made the holidays a bit brighter for some in our community and learned so much about empathy." shared Lauren Finke.

By empowering volunteers of all ages and connecting them with impactful opportunities, the VCCV is fostering a culture of service that enriches both the community and the individuals within it.

Fostering Corporate Community Engagement

When asked how Cedar Valley companies can partner with the VCCV to offer employee volunteer opportunities, Lauren Finke highlighted the organization's enthusiasm for facilitating corporate community service. "The VCCV appreciates supporting employers by connecting their employees with opportunities to serve. This could be as simple as sharing a weekly list of service experiences, supporting individuals in finding opportunities, planning a team building volunteer opportunity for a group of employees, or even considering a company-wide day of service – the VCCV can do it all! As an organization, it’s our goal to help anyone seeking ways to get connected in the community!" 

It's Your Time to Shine in Community Service

As we wrapped up our conversation about the power of volunteering with the incredible team at the Volunteer Center of Cedar Valley, it wasn't hard to feel inspired. Lauren, Jean, Kelsey and the team at VCCV are making real differences in people's lives every day, and their stories are a testament to the impact we can all have. This April, as we celebrate National Volunteer Month, think about how you can contribute to our community's growth and well-being. Whether you're looking to start volunteering for the first time or a business hoping to get more involved, the Volunteer Center is your go-to resource. Reach out, get involved, and let's work together to keep the Cedar Valley thriving. There's no better time than now to start your volunteering journey!

For more on how to give back in the Cedar Valley please visit: The Importance of Giving Back and the Business Case for Volunteering.