Happy National Volunteer Month!
Posted on April 25, 2012 by Danica Neale
A good volunteer program provides a connection between people and a meaningful job that improves our community. A great volunteer program is one that includes people with disabilities in doing these important jobs. Sometimes when people can’t stand, see, hear, grip a pencil or use a keyboard, they are perceived as lacking valuable job skills. This is not true! Having a disability does not mean that a person lacks job skills or other specialized training. Many people with disabilities serve as a vital part of volunteer programs, with our without modifications to their work environment.
Paraquad has an active volunteer program recruiting volunteers for positions at Paraquad. We also provide volunteer placement in the community for individuals with developmental disabilities as part of our employment program. This program provides job coaching support and has developed reliable and dedicated volunteers. One volunteer works at her neighborhood elementary school within walking distance from her home. She volunteers in the school library helping shelve books, cleaning up, and reading to students. She is a valued member of the team, and is building her reading and job skills while contributing to the work of the library and the education of our youth.
Many people with disabilities face barriers to employment such as income restrictions for benefits like Social Security and Medicaid, as well as prejudices. Even though these barriers may limit employment options, people with disabilities still have a desire to produce meaningful work. They often turn to volunteer jobs so they can stay active in their community. Judy Growe is a great example as a volunteer at Paraquad. With Judy’s help, Paraquad’s Youth Group receives all of their mailings on time, and people in rehab facilities across the metro region receive packets of information and resources she compiles for them. Judy is enthusiastic about volunteering for Paraquad, and finds her work to be a meaningful and important part of her life.
Sometimes a person acquires a new disability and finds that even with accommodations they are unable to continue performing their job. Depending on their background, a person may go back to school or find an internship to build new skills. Volunteering is also a great way to make an impact in our community while practicing and learning new job skills. As volunteers build their computer, phone, communication, office skills or other technical skills, they become more competitive in the job market. Though we hate to lose volunteers, Paraquad takes pride in knowing we have helped many people build job skills that make them more desirable to employers in our community.
Last year nearly 65 people volunteered at Paraquad and worked over 7,100 hours! According to Independent Sector, the value of volunteer work to a non-profit organization is $21.79 per hour. That means Paraquad had nearly $155,000, worth of volunteer labor last year! Some of our peer support and advocacy programs would not exist without the work of volunteers. The overall impact of their work may be hard to measure, but it has ripple effects reaching others in our office, our community and beyond.
Volunteering is a win-win opportunity for people who seek meaningful work or want to learn new job skills, as well as for the organizations that need help to improve our community. During National Volunteer Month, I hope you will consider volunteering at Paraquad or in our community. If you are looking for volunteers at your organization, consider hiring a volunteer with a disability. You will realize their skills, determination and dedication match those of all your best volunteers.