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This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on December 22,
1999. All rights reserved.
From literacy to pet therapy, there are hundreds of
volunteer opportunities in Mercer County, but until now, finding them
on your own could take months. Now all of them are just a click away.
HandsOnHelpers.org, a new online volunteer clearinghouse, matches
willing volunteers to nonprofits and charities that have a need for
their skills and talents. "It’s sort of like a dating agency,"
says Nancy Robins, a retired schoolteacher who co-founded
the site with Lynn Greenberg, a psychotherapist. "People
who didn’t think they could volunteer easily can because they’re not
making commitment until they find the right thing."
Launched in April, HandsOnHelpers.org is a volunteer clearinghouse
that lets visitors tailor their search for volunteer opportunities.
Like VolunteerMatch.com, the national online clearinghouse for
that allows volunteers to search by zip code, the website allows
to enter in the number of hours per week they are willing to commit,
and their areas of interest and skills. Each search yields a set of
ongoing opportunities as well as one-time opportunities. Once the
match is made, the organization can be E-mailed or called directly.
The one-stop volunteer concept works, says Robins, because most
don’t have the resources and time to recruit volunteers, much less
manage a website. "All of these nonprofits are underpaid and
she says. It’s also a boon for the busy, civic-minded individual.
"My sense is that there are people who would volunteer if they
knew it was easy to do and they could find the right volunteer
without any effort."
Libraries in the county are constantly receiving inquiries about where
community members can volunteer, but until now, the United Way
has been the only resource, and "the moment it was printed it
was out of date," says Robins. "If it’s not up to date, it’s
not valuable." Libraries in Mercer County have HandsOnHelpers.org
bookmarked on their browsers now.
Born in Guthrie, Oklahoma, Robins has been a Princeton resident since
1966. Her father was a lawyer; her mother, a nurse. She received a
BA in German and history from the University of Oklahoma, Class of
1961, and taught first grade at Ms. Mason’s School, formerly on the
corner of Bayard Lane. She has four children, and her husband, William
Robins, is president of Q Financial Group. Robins has also volunteered
for HeadStart, Isles, and served on the board of the Princeton
Robins decided to launch HandsOnHelpers.org, after meeting Lynn
Greenberg, a psychotherapist who works at the Princeton University
Student Counseling Center. Greenberg had suffered a back injury that
kept her off her feet, so she wanted to donate her time to an
organization doing phone work. "I had phone skills I would have
liked to share and I couldn’t find out who needed what," she says.
"I thought it would be nice if there was a volunteer
Together Greenberg and Robins launched the project with an advisory
board that includes members of Isles, Princeton University, Better
Beginnings, Planned Parenthood, and the Mercer County Human Services
Advisory Council. They started by contacting agencies in Mercer County
to find out if there was a need. "All said that it was hard to
recruit volunteers and they would love it," says Robins. "They
liked the idea of our site becoming the one directory, because we
update it once a week."
The HandsOnHelpers.org website was designed by New Jersey Online and
consultant Tim Kay. The operating budget is funded by grants from
the J. Seward Johnson Senior Charitable Trust, the Bunbury Company
Inc., Princeton University, the United Way, and PNC Bank — its
first corporate sponsor. The anonymous Princeton benefactor known
as the Chocolate Cat donated two computers, and Family and Children’s
Services provides an office at 120 John Street, where Theresa
director, helps the organization grow.
The firm’s sole employee, Comprelli, who has a degree in health and
human services from the University of Buffalo, Class of 1992, helps
keep the volunteer opportunities current and manages a public outreach
campaign. "We go out and talk to community groups, and speak to
groups, and reach out to the corporate and business community as
she says. "We know that a lot of corporations have a commitment
to their employees being involved, and we’re hoping to create a
in coordinating their volunteers."
Between July and November, HandsOnHelpers had a total of 8,061 visits
to the site, amongst those visits, 650 people who took the time to
enter their skills. It yielded 3,200 matches. The agency has over
400 opportunities for volunteering listed on the site, and just added
its 175th agency to website. The big national organizations, like
the American Cancer Society and Red Cross, are all there, as well
as grassroots organizations and private sector organizations such
as Center for Innovative Family Achievements, Kelsey Theater, and
Elm Court, a residence for physically challenged and older adults,
recently wrote a letter to HandsOnHelpers thanking them for the two
volunteers who helped cook dinner for 30 residents on Thanksgiving.
One man was a graduate student at Princeton who had no where to go
on the holidays; both volunteers, said a social worker, were "a
Robins also hears this from her client agencies. "The volunteers
they get through HandsOnHelpers are really excellent because they
come knowing all the information ahead of time," she says. "I
would hope that we’re reaching an era where people would realize the
benefit of giving back to the community."
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