HANCOCK COUNTY — Volunteers are in high demand throughout Hancock County, as local nonprofits busily assess the needs of the new year.
Katie Ottinger, Community Investment & Grants Officer for the Community Foundation of Hancock County, said the foundation routinely works with an estimated 80 nonprofits throughout the county each year.
As local organizations recover from the rush of the holidays — when donations and volunteer hours are often at their highest — directors are assessing the need for volunteers in the coming year.
Most report an ongoing need for volunteers, with opportunities as plentiful as they are diverse. Helping out can be as simple as stocking shelves at a nearby food pantry or cleaning out kitty litter at an animal shelter.
The staff at Agape is in constant need of volunteers to help walk horses and assist participants in its therapeutic horseback riding programs.
“Throughout the month of February we are going to be doing a Volunteer Recruitment Blitz for both our Greenfield and Cicero locations,” said volunteer coordinator Ainsley Flannery.
“It’s the perfect time to start recruiting new volunteers for the spring-fall season in Greenfield so that we can get everyone trained and ready to go by April,” she said.
Flannery is looking to increase the number of volunteers at Agape’s Greenfield location, which is open April through November, but is also hoping to increase the number of off-season volunteers to help with caring for horses and maintaining the property at at 531 W. 100 South in Greenfield.
Flannery currently has 175 volunteers at the Greenfield Agape location, but needs at least 250 total.
“With the 175 that we currently have we are often shorthanded in our therapeutic riding and equine-assisted learning classes,” she said.
Volunteers are mainly needed to help with riding classes, whether that be horse-handling, sidewalking or arena assistance. Agape can also use help from corporate groups who want to help feeding the horses and maintaining the barn.
Like many nonprofit staffers, Flannery said the number of volunteers at Agape dropped substantially over the past three years due to COVID. “They have started to pick back up slowly, but it is definitely still a work in progress. There was absolutely improvement over the past year,” she said.
She encourages anyone interested in volunteering for Agape to visit the website — agaperiding.org — and fill out a volunteer application as soon as possible. Those interested can also stop by the barn on weekdays or call 317-477-2276 for more information.
Fortville Area Resource Mission
Like all food pantries, the Fortville Area Resource Mission (FARM) is in constant need of food and volunteers.
Giving is typically up around the holidays, which enabled the pantry to provide approximately 50 pounds of food per family to 334 families the week of Thanksgiving — but the need for food and volunteers lasts all year long.
“The need has steadily grown over the last couple of years, (but we’ve been) able to meet our community’s needs because of all the hard work of our volunteers and donors,” said pantry director Lisa Reynolds.
“When people care about their neighbors, a mission like ours can survive and thrive. We really appreciate everyone who helps us,” she said.
The pantry is in constant need of non-perishable canned or boxed foods, but Reynolds said cash donations can go an especially long way to filling the pantry’s shelves with food purchased at a reduced cost at Gleaners Food Bank.
“We have volunteers who pick up large quantities of donated food from local grocery stores, convenient stores and food processors. We spend around $15 per family and provide around $85 to $100 worth of food and household items because of our gleaning efforts,” she said.
Reynolds said the FARM program is also seeking board members to further the pantry’s mission. “We are always in need of someone who can help with fundraising and events,” she said.
Pennsy Trail of Hancock County
Mary Ann Wietbrock said her nonprofit — Pennsy Trails of Hancock County — could also use help with fundraising, publicity and administrative tasks.
“We are in need of volunteers to help in a variety of areas,” said Wietbrock, president of the nonprofit which advocates for connecting sections of the Pennsy Trail.
Wietbrock said it’s an exciting time for the organization, as members are planning a kick off celebration for connecting the trail from County Roads 600 West to 400 West this year.
Volunteers are needed to help with maintenance and wildlife habitat restoration along the trail, and building a shelter at the 400 West trailhead — with shelter work days scheduled from 8 a.m. to noon April 8 and 15.
Those interested in helping in any way can sign up at PennsyTrails.org.
Court Appointed Special Advocates
The Hancock County CASA program — which stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates — has an ongoing need for volunteers throughout the year.
Those who take on the challenge are richly reward with the satisfaction of making a difference in a child’s life, said the nonprofit’s director, Marciann McClarnon Miller.
“We are always in need of volunteers because we cannot predict when children will be removed from their home due to abuse or neglect,” she said.
Since the Hancock County program launched three years ago, “we have always had a waiting list of children needing a volunteer,” McClarnon Miller said.
CASA volunteers represent children who have been removed from their home for abuse or neglect, after going through extensive training to learn how to serve the children they represent.
“They advocate for the child in court and in all aspects of the child’s life. They are often the first adult in the child’s life who has a consistent presence,” the director said.
Even during COVID, CASAs were encouraged to visit their appointed children virtually and by phone. “The judges want our volunteers to ‘have eyes on children,’ and this wasn’t possible in the ways we had always done it before, so we got creative and had front porch and driveway visits,” said McClarnon Miller.
For more information on becoming a CASA, visit CASAhancockcountyin.org or call 317-477-1304.
Hancock County COAD
Hancock County COAD needs volunteers to not only man its warming stations in severe weather, but to be on call if disaster strikes.
COAD — Community Organizations Active in Disasters — is charged with supporting the county in case of disaster. Volunteers are needed to attend monthly training meetings as well as filling data entry and leadership roles.
“For warming center operations, we could use help with the administration as well as those willing to lose some sleep to stay at the center each night we open,” said COAD’s volunteer coordinator, Jim Peters.
Peters said volunteers are especially critical at the start of the year, when temperatures tend to turn the coldest, making finding shelter for some a matter of life and death.
Volunteers have dropped off since the onset of COVID, which Peters thinks is a major issue for all nonprofits and churches.
The organization is in need of an additional 25-30 people to be on call to man warming stations, which would enable the warming stations to be open more nights and avoid burnout among the core group of volunteers.
Peters also needs an untold number to join the nonprofit’s disaster preparation efforts.
“The more volunteer participation we have during the preparedness phase of disaster planning the smoother the recovery will be when we have an incident, but it’s a challenge to get people excited about training for an event that may not occur for some time,” he said.
Deb Cherry, longtime volunteer for Changing Footprints — which collects and donates used shoes for those in need — witnessed a significant drop in volunteers and donations at the end of last year.
“I think most nonprofits are struggling to get enough volunteers,” said Cherry, who saw numbers drop in December.
“Many folks were either too busy or sick with cold and flu, plus many were out of town for Christmas,” she said.
Cherry knows that many people lead a busy lifestyle which leaves little time to volunteer, but she encourages everyone to consider the benefits of devoting just a couple of hours a week for a good cause.
“If you are age 8 through 80, we have a job for you,” she said.
Tasks range from emptying the collection bin, matching shoes and washing and drying them. Volunteers can also greet clients and help them find the right size and style of shoe for them.
“We need five or six people to work each two-hour shift on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and we currently have about half that,” said Cheery, who is a regular volunteer.
“That doesn’t include the help we get from groups like churches and Cub Scouts, which are an invaluable resource,” she said.
Like many nonprofits, Cherry points out that Changing Footprints is completely run by volunteers.
“We have no marketing folks, directors, grant writers or building maintenance staff. We completely rely on volunteers,” she said.
“The challenge is ongoing for this divinely-driven labor of love. We depend on spouses, church members, old friends and new friends for help,” said Cherry, who has faith that more volunteers will get involved in the coming year.
“The Lord will provide,” she said. “He always does.”