Findlay, Ohio (March 24, 2021) - Volunteers came through for Hancock County last year, despite the many challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.
Volunteers United — the United Way of Hancock County’s volunteer center — posted more than 5,000 service hours for 2020, according to volunteer coordinator Sarah Mayle.
“I’m inspired by our community,” she said.
United Way has always worked to connect volunteers with opportunities in the community, said Mayle, who took on the position last March. At that time, changes were being made to the volunteer center, she said.
“We branded it as Volunteers United, and we’ve had intentional channels that we’ve been moving through to really expand what we’re able to provide to the community,” she explained.
But just as work was getting started, the pandemic arrived.
“Of course COVID presented major challenges,” said Mayle. “But it was very heartwarming and inspiring here in my new position trying to get my bearings. We had a lot of people call in to the office or send an email: ‘Hey, how can I help?’”
This enabled her to start building a volunteer base.
'Keep the cheer going'
Two new programs were also developed last year for seniors who live in nursing facilities and were feeling isolated because of visitation restrictions. Senior Cheer provides a one-way communication where an individual, school class, church or service organization can write letters, create pieces of art or provide small gifts for seniors; while the Senior Pen Pal program is an ongoing letter exchange.
The response to both programs has been amazing, said Mayle.
“We have had, this is moving all the way into this year, but we’ve had more than 1,000 pieces of cheer come in. And we’ve connected more than 100 pen pals,” she said.
These have been distributed to residents in 11 Hancock County care facilities, and two people who are clients of Cancer Patient Services.
All kinds of people responded, said Mayle. Multiple classes from several schools participated, as did the American Heritage Girl Tenderheart Unit, Youth Advisory Board and Tween Interest Group at the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library, Trinity Episcopal Church and the University of Findlay’s Gerontology Club.
“It’s ongoing, and we continue to get cheer. I’d say when we were in the real thick of it, I was sending lots and lots of things several times a week to different places,” she said.
The response dropped a little bit after Christmas, but Mayle said she’s still sending items out once a week.
“There have been a few people who have been very dedicated. There’s one woman who sends about eight to 10 little puzzle books and cards every week,” said Mayle. “We continue to have things coming in, even as some of the restrictions at nursing homes are starting to lift a little bit. But I still see an interest in the program, so we’ll just keep the cheer going.”
Days of Caring
In all, volunteers posted over 5,000 service hours in 2020. Mayle said this includes hours provided by people who serve on the agency’s boards and committees, estimates based on the number of people who participate in Senior Cheer and Senior Pen Pal programs, individual projects, and last year’s Days of Caring event.
Days of Caring is typically held in May but had to be rescheduled for a week in September because of the pandemic. The 26th annual event saw 220 volunteers complete 61 projects at 16 agencies, with 872 service hours completed. This has a value of over $21,000 to the nonprofits, Mayle said.
“We worked with different organizations and we worked with Hancock Public Health to make sure we could keep everyone safe. And we made sure there were COVID protocols in place for each project,” she said.
This year's event will take place May 3-7 and will see employees of area businesses lending a hand to local organizations. A smaller event will also be held the week of Sept. 20. In addition to businesses, individual registrations are being accepted.
“It was astounding to me. Last year, I visited most of the sites and was amazed at just the amount of work that just one group can do,” Mayle said.
'People want to help'
There is a registration form for new volunteers on the website, liveunitedhancockcounty.org, under the volunteer tab. The form asks about interests, skills and availability, to better connect someone with a volunteer opportunity that might be of interest to them.
The public can also sign up for Mayle’s weekly email that lists volunteer opportunities.
Moving forward this year, the agency hopes to partner more with youth and youth organizations. One event is already planned with the Blue & Gold Chapter of Findlay High School’s National Honor Society. Members will help clean up litter on April 23 in conjunction with the Blanchard River Watershed Partnership and the River Network.
Mayle said United Way is also starting a board service program geared toward anyone with an interest in serving on a committee or board, but might not know much about it.
“The motivation behind this is, we’re hearing that a lot of baby boomers are retiring and coming off board service, or we’ve also heard there are a lot of the same people serving on different boards in the community. Our goal is to fill that gap of the off-going people with some fresh faces,” she said.
The two-pronged program involves connecting those interested with a committee where they can get hands-on experience. The committee could be through the United Way, with one of its partner agencies, or through the city.
They are also developing educational material so these participants can head into their new position with some knowledge.
“The more we continue to move forward, the more we realize the need is there more than ever,” she said. “People want to help. They just really want to go out and serve their community and give service. I think it’s exciting that we are growing and can provide more for people.”
For more information about any of the programs, email email@example.com or call her at 419-423-1432.