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This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on December 22,

1999. All rights reserved.

Volunteer Clearinghouse

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

volunteers

that allows volunteers to search by zip code, the website allows

visitors

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

nonprofits

don’t have the resources and time to recruit volunteers, much less

manage a website. "All of these nonprofits are underpaid and

overworked,"

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

opportunities

without any effort."

Libraries in the county are constantly receiving inquiries about where

community members can volunteer, but until now, the United Way

publication

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was out of date," says Robins.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

Historic

Preservation Commission.

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

community

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

clearinghouse."

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

Comprelli,

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

well,"

she says. "We know that a lot of corporations have a commitment

to their employees being involved, and we’re hoping to create a

relationship

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

HiTOPS.

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

godsend."

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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