Spend your free time helping others, the community will be richer

Leslie Schelat

Student volunteers are a vital component of many local organizations’ workforce.

And with school getting back into full swing, there has never been a better time to get off the couch and give back to the Kent community.

Big Brothers and Big Sisters

Big Brothers and Big Sisters is a program in which adults are assigned a “little,” a 6- to 17-year-old child, to mentor.

To make mentoring more convenient and to encourage participation, Associate Director Ron Kilchenman said that he matches Kent State students with children from Kent. The mentors are asked to spend an hour or two with their “little” three to four times a month for at least one year.

“The children really enjoy a volunteer,” Kilchenman said.

The Portage County chapter of Big Brothers and Big Sisters currently has 60 mentor-child pairs. At any time, approximately 15 of those include Kent State students. With 95 children on the waiting list, Kilchenman said he would like more student volunteers.

County Clothing Center

The County Clothing Center accepts donations of clothes and shoes, which are distributed to needy community members. Director Cyndi Underwood said formal, business and wedding attire are also welcomed because the center lends them to men and women who otherwise could not afford them.

Although the County Clothing Center boasts more than 430 active volunteers, additional people are always needed.

“When I meet someone, within two seconds, I’ll find something for them to do,” said Underwood, who has even called her sons in to work on busy afternoons.

Volunteers accept donations, sort incoming clothing and place items for display. Larger groups clean and organize storage space.

Habitat for Humanity

Habitat for Humanity’s goal is to provide quality, affordable housing to needy families.

Liz Banasiak, a sophomore organizational communication major, has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity since seventh grade.

“Seeing the house get built and seeing the look on people’s faces — they’re just so happy,” she said.

Current projects include a renovation in Kent. New houses in Atwater will be starting soon.

Typical construction workdays run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. Although Habitat for Humanity appreciates construction experience, volunteers of all skill levels are welcome. If they prefer, volunteers can also work in the office or on public relations campaigns.

King-Kennedy Center

According to its Web site, the King-Kennedy Center is a multipurpose center in Ravenna that provides programming for underprivileged residents of Portage County. Founded in 1978 by Kent State students, it is one of the largest student social service projects in the nation.

Volunteers work year-round to keep the center running. Students serve as tutors, help with food preparation and plan activities.

American Red Cross of Portage County

Although blood drives are important, the Red Cross provides other services to the community, including swimming lessons and CPR classes. It disperses disaster relief and assists in communication between military personnel and their families.

Because of its numerous services, volunteer coordinator Crystal Wagner said the Red Cross is in constant need of volunteers. These individuals assist in running blood drives, teaching classes and rebuilding communities after disasters. Disaster team members may work locally, nationally or train new volunteers.

Safer Futures

Safer Futures is Portage County’s battered women’s shelter where women and children can stay for up to 30 days. The shelter offers various classes and activities for residents.

Janet Verthe, Safer Futures’ volunteer coordinator, said the shelter takes 10 to 12 student volunteers per semester.

Tasks include clerical work, babysitting and teaching small classes. Volunteers need to be available for at least four hours per week. Training is done in conjunction with Miller Community House (for homeless men, women and children) and the Freedom House (for homeless male veterans).

Townhall II

Townhall II provides a variety of services, including drug, alcohol and sexual assault counseling, mediation, advocacy, remedial driving classes and other educational services. Victoria Kress, volunteer training coordinator, said one of the biggest services Townhall II runs is Helpline, a 24-hour crisis hotline. Helpline training is an 80-hour program, and operators are required to work a minimum of four hours per week.

Other year-round needs include domestic violence work, medical clinic assistance and mediation and intervention work.

United Way of Portage County

The United Way of Portage County provides support for 44 local programs, including Big Brothers and Sisters, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

United Way also runs 211 Portage, a phone resource that helps residents find health services and basic needs in the area.

Opportunities at United Way range from clerical work and data entry to serving on the organization’s Fund Distribution Panel. The biggest need, however, is for fundraising at United Way’s numerous public events.

“Volunteers are important,” said Rachel Wenger, director of campaign and communications. “Being a smaller organization, it’s important to get the word out about the community’s needs.”

Other Volunteer Opportunity Resources

Two resources are available to help volunteers find a group to dedicate their time to.

Volunteermatch.org connects volunteers with non-profit organizations. It features nearly 35,000 opportunities across the country and boasts more than 34,000 registered volunteers.

Another resource for volunteer opportunities is Volunteer Portage. A service of United Way, the organization links community members with groups in need.

Many organizations in the area are always looking for volunteers. No matter which one you choose, the experience promises to be rewarding.

“It’s an amazing feeling to help people,” Banasiak said.

Contact social services reporter Leslie Schelat at [email protected].