By Rod King/ For the Northeast News
“Volunteerism has changed greatly in the last couple decades,” said Jean Joley, executive director of The Volunteer Center on Lake Avenue. People prefer sporadic opportunities that match their passions, instead of regularly scheduled activities such as pushing wheelchairs or picking up trash in a park. They also want training so they can successfully carry out their volunteer responsibilities.
“Volunteering is more than cleaning up along a highway,” Joley said. “The Volunteer Center provides a corps of volunteers to fill important community roles by offering meaningful opportunities relevant to their skills, abilities and interests. Persons wishing to work with veterans, serve food at the Rescue Mission, assist at Community Harvest Food Bank or learn to work with the homeless can find what they’re looking for at TVC.
“Though seven of 10 who volunteer are seniors and have more time, we’re seeing more younger people getting involved. High school students want to be able to put on their college applications that they are involved in the community, and millenniums want it on their resumes.”
TVC, which was founded in 1971, provides volunteers to 93 local not-for-profit, civic and faith-based agencies throughout the county. Their long list of agencies, to name a few, ranges from Allen County SPCA, Hispanic Development Center, Little River Wetlands Project and Science Central to Camp Red Cedar, Dare to Dream Youth Ranch, The Salvation Army, The Franciscan Center and Fort Wayne Parks and Recreation. The agency’s volunteer guide book lists them all. More information can be obtained on the TVC web site at www.volunteerfortwayne.org.
“Several signature programs define the work of TVC,” Joley said. “We’re probably best known for our Coats for Kids program which last year distributed more than 4,000 new and gently used coats to children in local schools, shelters and social service agencies. Since 2000 we’ve handed out over 50,000 coats.”
Most people don’t realize that TVC offers free federal and state income tax preparation to low-income families and military families. Last year, nearly 3,000 taxpayers received assistance from TVC’s IRS Certified Tax Volunteers and returned $3 million to county families. The agency provides training to volunteers, who must pass an IRS test to become certified.
Sixteen attorneys volunteer their time providing free legal assistance to individuals who have an old felony on their record and because of that are unable to obtain employment, housing, educational grants, driver’s licenses or food stamps. The Second Chance Expungement Initiative that helps them obtain a letter clearing their status was the idea of Director Joley’s son, David, in 2015. At the present it’s the only program of its kind in the state. Last year they helped more than 1,200 individuals seeking expungement.
“Our volunteers have provided exceptional assistance to not-for-profit agencies, churches and other organizations. The Benefits Enrollment Team provides trained and certified volunteers to agencies to assist clients obtain Indiana Assistance Benefits such as Indiana unemployment, food stamps and medicaid benefits. The program was expanded recently to include help in enrolling individuals in the Health Marketplace and Health Initiative Program 2.0 enrollment under the Affordable Care Act,” Joley said. TVC also supported more than 400 military families facing deployment.
“We’re sort of a clearing house for volunteers,” Joley said. “A month ago we got a request from Community Harvest Food Bank for help on a specific Saturday. We sent out a Facebook appeal asking for volunteers and 50 showed up. E-mail blasts are sent out once a week listing the various volunteer opportunities available. We receive requests from corporations asking for volunteer projects that their employees can get involved in.
“Unfortunately we lose a lot of good volunteers because they get hired by the agencies they were sent to help. I guess I should feel good about that because it fortifies the fact that they were carefully screened, well trained and chosen by our staff for specific long-term, short-term or sporadic event tasks. Last year our 1,218 volunteers served a total of 121,000 hours in the Allen County community.”
Like many of the agencies they serve, TVC relies on volunteers to support its four paid staff members. Joley’s staff includes program manager Anna Etter, site and training coordinator Gretchen Neuhaus and receptionist/clerk Liz Merkle.
Joley, a native of the Detroit area, came to Fort Wayne in 1972 on the nursing staff of St. Joseph Hospital. She taught nursing for 20 years and was director of nursing at St. Joe for six years. When the executive director position at TVC opened in November 1987 she jumped at the opportunity to be able to be involved in helping meet community needs on such a broad scale. “It has been a very rewarding and totally absorbing experience,” she added.