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Live United: Help establish a volunteer center in Freeborn County

Live United by Erin Haag

Erin Haag


This past weekend, my little family celebrated my husband for his phenomenal job as Daddy. Fishing, bike rides and ice cream were the highlights of “his day.” My own daddy passed away nearly 14 years ago now. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him on a bike, but he’d love Albert Lea, with all of the lakes and fishing opportunities. He would love that his grandchildren are growing up surrounded by the outdoors.

When picking up my children yesterday at day care, I discovered that I had a nail in my tire. Thankfully, my day care provider’s husband was ready and willing to fill up my tire to get me by until I had it repaired. He didn’t just fill it up though and send me on my way. Instead, he turned it into a learning opportunity for my children. He taught them how to spit on the tire to find the air bubbles. He asked my daughter to read the markings on the tire, and to do the math on how much air was needed. He explained a tire gauge and let my son check another tire. Practical life skills, with reading and mathematics thrown in. Add in an exciting role model and you’ve got children engaged and learning.

Watching him, I thought of my own daddy and his life skills. I remember when he stripped and stained a small bookshelf. I was allowed to help him, and he taught me that you always “sand with the grain” and that it’s “righty tighty, lefty loosey” for screws. I still have that bookshelf sitting in my front foyer, and I still hear his voice every time I build something.

This topic is nothing you haven’t heard before. I can imagine many of you nodding along as you read my words, and thinking of your own personal examples. Here’s a challenge though. Have you modeled volunteering? Maybe you volunteer, maybe you do small projects here and there, but have you engaged your family members in volunteering? Do they call it volunteering?

My children like to “help out” at church. They’re crushed that they’re not allowed into the kitchen to help wash dishes or to put things away, but they enjoy collecting the centerpieces and helping wipe down tables. I’m not certain they understand that they’re volunteering though. It’s just something they do. What I’m challenging you (and myself) to do is to actively engage your family in volunteering on a consistent, regular basis — at a new place that you’re not familiar with. People volunteer where they’re comfortable. Someone else organizes a group and you join in. What about joining a new group? Making new friends? Learning new skills? Are you talking about and seeking out different opportunities? Many imagine volunteering as a one-day event to put together mailers. Or maybe a day spent helping at an event. Those are helpful of course, but what United Way of Freeborn County is learning is that our community needs consistent, engaged volunteers.

Listening to this message for the past year has made it clear to UWFC. Freeborn County needs a volunteer center. The majority of our nonprofits in the area say they need help with volunteer recruitment, volunteer management, training and a central place to go. UWFC is seeking to answer that call.

In February, UWFC was awarded a three-year Americorps VISTA project through the Minnesota Association of Volunteer Administration. The focus is on building a volunteer center — a central place for a volunteer list, trainings provided for both nonprofits and individuals and management. UWFC will be hiring a VISTA member to help accomplish this goal.

I often describe VISTA as the domestic version of PeaceCorps. It’s through the same federal program, with the mission of alleviating poverty here in the U.S. VISTA members serve for one year as a staff member and focus on building capacity by designing programs and building the infrastructure of a specific project — a volunteer center in our case.

Traditionally, VISTA members are college graduates, who are looking for real world experience for a year before going on to graduate school, or people who have retired and are looking for ways to expand their experience or gain their job skills. They’re paid a federal living allowance and on completion of their one-year commitment would receive noncompetitive eligibility for federal jobs. As a former VISTA member myself, I can attest to the benefits. I took full advantage of the education award to pay off my student loans. This education award can also be used to pay for future schooling needs. There are allowances available for health care, child care and relocation.

Intrigued yet? Know someone who might be? Please help us spread the word. There are many great ideas in our community about how to come together and volunteer for the betterment of our community. The fathers in my life wouldn’t think twice about stepping up to lend a hand if they knew what the need was and where to go. Let’s make it a little easier for us to model good citizenship to our children. Let’s help get someone here who can turn those ideas and conversations into reality.

For an application guide, email general@unitedwayfc.org or call 507-373-8670 with questions.

Erin Haag is the executive director of the United Way of Freeborn County.