BUCKHANNON – As the year wraps up, Buckhannon Volunteer Center coordinator Casey Gilbert discussed her current role with My Buckhannon – and shared how she is preparing to engage residents in the future as 2019 fast approaches.
Gilbert is excited about several upcoming events, including an initiative to encourage people to exercise during the winter months, a film series and a “speed dating-style” event designed to quickly match organizations with volunteers.
What else is on the horizon?
Read on to learn more.
The Buckhannon Volunteer Center was formed earlier this year, thanks to the grant writing of Callie Cronin Sams, who helped the city secure funding through Volunteer West Virginia and the Volunteer Generation Fund, as part of the Be Kind, #VolunteerWV initiative.
BVC is designed to link visitors and residents to volunteer opportunities and assist local groups and organizations in their search for volunteers through an online database.
Gilbert began her stint in October.
With only three months as coordinator, Gilbert said her biggest accomplishment so far has been coordinating the inaugural Community Unity and Kindness Day of Service in October.
“The initial planning had been done before I took over, so it was a large task to take on as I was just starting, but we were able to get a lot of good things done in just a few hours – trash pickup on Main (Street) and some surrounding streets, two Good Neighbor property cleanups, weeding at the community garden to prepare for the spring, clearing out the (Upshur County) Senior Center basement to make room for other activities, a deep clean of the Buckhannon Manor, and more,” she said.
As volunteer coordinator, Gilbert said she hopes to use her position to shine a light on everything that’s going on in the B-U community, make volunteer opportunities easier to find and give volunteers well-deserved recognition.
“I’ve been working to spread the word about the BVC at several community meetings, and the organizations with whom I’ve spoken seem really welcoming of the program, so I hope it makes community involvement even stronger,” she said.
In August, BVC launched its official website, which serves as a hub for folks seeking volunteer opportunities and entities needing volunteers.
However, Gilbert said one the biggest challenges she’s currently facing is introducing people to the BVC’s technological components.
The website, www.buckhannonwv.galaxydigital.com, is set up so organizations can create profiles and post all of their needs and events. Then, a volunteer can create their user profile and respond directly to those needs through the website and track their hours.
“I think the technology will be really beneficial, but I understand how hard it can be to begin using something new, especially when many organizations already have their own processes for volunteer management,” she said. “I’m really thankful for the organizations and volunteers that have been using the site to help get it up off the ground and will continue to teach the community about the BVC.”
Looking ahead at the new year, Gilbert said there’s several events already planned, with the first being another day of service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January.
“Plans are still in the works, but we hope to schedule a day with SYCC to host some kind of ‘Active Zone’ for the community, all ages, since it can be harder to get your exercise in the winter months,” she added.
Gilbert said the city’s Diversity Appreciation Coalition has mentioned hosting a film series sometime around the holiday, and plans are still in the works for that as well.
“On the actual day, Jan. 21, I hope to have several volunteer opportunities available. Since many people will have the day off work, we want to encourage them to ‘make it a day ON’ by giving an hour or two back to the community,” she said.
One of the events Gilbert said she is most excited about will happen in February and is a “speed dating-type networking” event.
“I’d like to get a representative from each organization in the community in a large space, where potential and current volunteers can meet with them and find a service opportunity that works best for them,” she said. “We’re going to make it fit with the Valentine’s Day theme, and I think it’ll be really fun and a great way to network with each other.”
With April as National Volunteer Month, Gilbert said BVC hopes to offer an appreciation event for folks in the community, but plans have not yet been made.
BVC will also lend a hand in the West Virginia Make it Shine statewide clean-up event during the first two weeks of April and Global Youth Service Day, April 12-14.
As BVC prepares for 2019, Gilbert said the center is looking to create business partnerships to increase monetary and in-kind support.
“We are currently grant-funded and can reapply for the same funding for two more years, but we’d like to find a way to make the program sustainable when that funding is gone,” she said. “With business partnerships, they would provide either a donation or work with us to set up volunteer time for their employees. It would give them the opportunity for team-building outside of the workplace and could help improve their Corporate Social Responsibility reputation, which has shown growing importance in the business world.”
Gilbert added, “We are still working out all of the details for this endeavor, though.”
BVC also hopes to get connected with the schools early in the new year which she hopes will provide a large pool of volunteers.
“And community service, I think, is a vital part of growth and development, especially upon entering adulthood,” she said.