Volunteer, Ben Schmidt (Americorp Participant), shares his perspective after serving on the United Way of the Columbia Gorge's 2014 Allocations Committee......
(Taken from his blog.)
by: Ben Schmidt
The Columbia River Gorge is an enormous river canyon whose natural beauty will blow your mind…or at least knock your socks off (which might explain why so many locals are starting to wear sandals this spring). The region, casually referred to as “the Gorge,” straddles Oregon and Washington and has earned a world-class reputation for wildflowers, waterfalls, and wind sports. I moved here in September as a RARE AmeriCorps member to develop a Resident Services program that connects tenants of affordable housing with social services. With 80,000 Gorge residents living spread out across an area slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey, I had my work cut out for me. Luckily, a unique opportunity to volunteer with United Way of the Columbia Gorge helped me better learn the landscape of service providers and get a good pulse on the local communities.
During the month of March, I served on the 2014 Allocations Committee for United Way of the Columbia Gorge. Our local United Way chapter is a nonprofit that fundraises for and supports human-service programs helping Gorge residents.
2014 Allocations Committee Quick Facts
· Committee: 9 members
· Representing: 5 counties in 2 states
· Distributing: $185,000
· Member agencies: 33 organizations
As a representative of Wasco County, I had the privilege of volunteering on the allocations committee alongside caring and competent business and community leaders. The committee was responsible for reviewing applicant agencies’ projects and financials, interviewing agency representatives, and formulating a final funding plan that distributed funds in a fair and objective way. I participated in, and learned from, the panel’s careful funding considerations and healthy debate that naturally occurs in a diverse, cross-sector group. The allocation process allowed me to combine community service with high-level professional development – and I remained well fed along the way, thanks to the committee’s delicious potluck dishes.
Gathering information about local and regional service providers is at the heart of my RARE assignment with Columbia Cascade Housing Corporation. I use that information to educate residents of affordable housing about available community resources, which help lower-income individuals and families improve economic self-sufficiency. Volunteering on the United Way Allocations Committee, I got a front-row seat as service providers from across the Gorge came to us to present their programs; given the huge scale of the Gorge service area, having these organizations come to a centralized location was an extreme stroke of fortune for my RARE project! Through the process, I learned about innovative programs like Backpacks for Kids in Klickitat County, which sends children home from school with nutritious food for the weekend, and the child literacy program SMART (Start Making a Reader Today).
As a RARE AmeriCorps member, and in the wake of volunteering with the Allocations Committee for the United Way of the Columbia Gorge, I will be the first to extoll the virtues of community service. It’s a way to harness people’s talent and passion to make a positive collective impact. It enhances the community while inspiring and empowering the volunteer. I would encourage everyone to identify a meaningful cause and volunteer. If you’re not sure where to start, well, I’d recommend applying for the RARE AmeriCorps program (applications due April 25th) and reaching out to your local United Way chapter (OK, I’m somewhat biased, but these are truly amazing organizations!). Wherever you live, opportunities abound for the eager volunteer. So don’t wait -- dive in, and have fun!