BY PAUL BICKLEY
“I get a lot of personal satisfaction from playing a role in what many people are doing to make Bloomington and the larger community better,” says Elizabeth “Bet” Savich, director of the City of Bloomington Volunteer Network since 1995.
The Volunteer Network has evolved over the years. When it was established as the Bloomington Volunteer Action Center in 1980 by Mayor Frank McCloskey, the department interviewed, screened, and assigned volunteers to local nonprofit organizations. It also logged all of the volunteers’ hours. The focus, and the name, changed in the mid-1990s.
Now the Bloomington Volunteer Network serves as a conduit for agencies and volunteers. It’s a place for agencies to advertise their volunteer needs and for volunteers to sign up with the agencies with which they are paired. This arrangement allows the network to focus its energies on outreach programs, says Savich, including organizing volunteer fairs, helping nonprofits train and manage volunteers, and speaking to groups about large-scale community volunteer needs.
The Volunteer Network has launched what Savich calls a “new and robust” website. On it, prospective volunteers can view and sign up for more than 200 opportunities, while nonprofit agencies can list material needs and communicate with donors, get tips on recruiting and placing volunteers, and register for discounted volunteer background checks.
Savich suggests those interested in volunteering look for an organization that is devoted to an issue they care about, such as poverty or homelessness, or a community asset, such as the arts. Her advice for those new to volunteering? “Shop around, get to know the people and routines, and keep commitments brief until you’ve found a good fit,” she says.
Each year the Volunteer Network celebrates volunteerism with the Be More Awards, which recognize the outstanding service of 10 local individuals and groups. A $500 check is awarded to each of the recipients’ volunteer organizations. This year’s 34th annual Be More Awards were held March 28 at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.
Savich is a firm believer in the importance of volunteering. “After I started volunteering, I came to believe in its power,” she says. “It changes a person. It changes a community.”
For more information, visit bloomingtonvolunteernetwork.org.