June 20, 2019

Volunteering is the theme of the work AmeriCorps member Jodi Blackford is doing this summer. She is working for the Claude W. and Dolly Ahrens Foundation with the foundation’s president and CEO, Julie Gosselink, as her host site supervisor.

“We want to help serve the community need to volunteer coordination, volunteer engagement and volunteer management,” says Gosselink of the summer’s focus. “There’s not a resource directory where individuals can go to find out how to volunteer and what types of volunteer opportunities are out there in the community that they could choose to volunteer for. There’s no community coordinated effort to somehow manage a volunteer database. We want to help make it easier for organizations and individuals to volunteer. That’s what we hope to accomplish.”

Gosselink comments that a web-based resource directory or bulletin board could make it easier for organizations without staff to do the recruiting to find volunteers and make it easier for individuals interested in volunteering to review the need for volunteers as defined by organizations.

Gosselink notes that members of younger generations are now more and more getting their information online, so traditional methods of person-to-person recruiting are not always as effective. She thinks an on-line volunteer directory will reach those younger generations more effectively.

Blackford will be doing several types of research before she and Gosselink begin discussing what a web-based tool would look like. Gosselink points out that needs of organizations change over time and there are different platforms or formats that could be used, both of which Blackford is researching.

Gosselink adds that each organization has its own needs and requirements for its volunteers. A main goal of the AmeriCorps partnership in Grinnell is to help find the volunteers needed by the school district to support education. One key requirement of getting volunteers for schools, of course, is background checks, and example of a step on the way to volunteering that a resource directory could not perform.

In addition to organizational needs changing over time, Gosselink says, members of boards and organizational leadership also changes, so the qualities sought in volunteers also changes. “We’re working through these things to come up with an efficient solution for everyone,” Gosselink sums up. “It’s complicated meeting all the different organizations’ various needs and requirements. We want to create something that can be self- sustaining and be a long term solution to finding volunteers.”

Blackford earned an AA degree in liberal arts at Iowa Valley-Grinnell (IVG) and a BA in psychology and human services from Buena Vista University. During the academic year she now works at IVG, providing student services and supporting student activities, and the additional duty of serving as advisor to the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society has just been added to her responsibilities. She does not work at IVG during the summer.

Having worked for just over a week so far, Blackford describes her goal of “creating possibilities” and “corralling volunteer opportunities.” Thus far she has been networking with members of the community and leaders of organizations, asking what volunteer-related needs they perceive and if they would use a web-based resource directory if available. Thus far, she says, all the people she has talked with has been supportive.

Blackford views her role initially as gathering information which she and Gosselink hope to shape into a web tool that will be convenient for organizations seeking volunteer opportunities to use. She has no current conclusions about what the tool will provide, preferring to gather information before drawing conclusions.

“I love it,” Blackford says of her experience thus far. “I love the atmosphere in the foundation offices. I love all the contacts I’m getting with individuals and organizations in the community. I love it.”