Our Towns

Nonprofits Rely on Volunteers’ Enthusiasm

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — For Shannon Stamp, the time she devotes to helping children read and write is more than volunteer effort. It’s a cause driven by a personal connection with illiteracy and how it could affect a family and an individual.

“I have a personal interest in this,” says Stamp, the practice administrator at the Center for Women in Canfield. “My father died unable to read or write. It’s the most rewarding thing I do in my life.”

Every Tuesday during the academic year, Stamp volunteers three hours, 3 to 6 p.m., to children in kindergarten through third grade at Youngstown Community School as part of the United Way of Youngstown and Mahoning Valley’s Success After 6 program. “Reading, writing, math – whatever they need,” she says. “I started in September and have seen huge growth.”

Many of the children face challenges at home such as poverty, lack of attention and poor nutrition that impede their ability to grow academically and socially, Stamp says. For some, the meals served at school might be the only food they eat that day. “Sometimes that’s the best part of the night,” she says.

When she started last year, Stamp recalls, she found children starved for attention and many lacked the basic academic skills to advance to the next level in their schoolwork. “It’s really hard to believe that there are kids – third graders – that can’t read or write,” she says.

Stamp moves from classroom to classroom to help all of the children – there are roughly 100 – with their academic and emotional development.

“What’s great is that these kids are so happy to see you,” Stamp relates. “I can’t wait for September.”

It’s volunteers such as Stamp who power nonprofit organizations in the Mahoning Valley, say the executives and board members of organizations striving to make a difference in the community.

It would be impossible to run Success After 6 without the help and support of community volunteers, says Bob Hannon, president and CEO of United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley. “They’re the lifeline of what we do,” he says. “Everyone from our board, those who serve on committees, all the way down to our Day of Caring.”

United Way’s Day of Caring is a daylong effort that sends teams of volunteers into the community to help clean up neighborhoods. Last year, the effort drew nearly 700 volunteers, 450 of whom cleaned up 75 blighted houses and properties on the south side of Youngstown.

Aside from the Day of Caring, Hannon says that his organization on average draws about 250 steady volunteers who commit between several days a week to one day a month to various initiatives.

“We connect volunteers where they have the most interest,” he says. “Some are good at marketing and public relations. Some are good with children. Some are good with finances.”

Ginny Pasha, president and chief professional officer of United Way of Trumbull County, says the number of volunteers who contribute to the organization’s initiatives is growing every year. These volunteers give their time and energy to literacy programs, community cleanup efforts, administration and fundraising.

“It’s all about building relationships,” Pasha says. “Often, those who give become our best volunteers. And, those who volunteer are more likely to give.”

United Way of Trumbull County’s Reading Great By 8 literacy programs – established in the summer of 2014 – has enjoyed considerable success because of the efforts of local volunteers, she continues.

The initiative consists of three programs: a four-week summer program directed toward the parents of children enrolled in K-2 education in which families engage in reading and comprehension activities; a two-week summer intervention program for children who need help to pass the Ohio Third Grade Reading Test; and a Read 4 Fun program where members of the business community fan out across 144 K-2 classrooms in nine school districts to read to kids in honor of Dr. Seuss’ birthday.

“It was such great fun,” Pasha says. “Last year we had 95 businesspeople throughout the county go into classrooms and read Dr. Seuss. Everyone is impacted from what they did.”

Other volunteer efforts include the United Way At Work campaign kickoff scheduled for Aug. 26, Pasha says. This initiative draws some 100 volunteers who go into the neighborhoods and perform yard work for seniors who don’t qualify for subsidies. “There are just a tremendous amount of volunteers who give up their time,” she says.

In addition, volunteers play a role in staffing advisory committees, helping reinvest funds into areas of the community and help advocate for financial literacy, Pasha says.

The need for more volunteers continues to grow as United Way Trumbull County’s mission expands, Pasha says.

“Our work has grown and we’ve become more visible,” she says. “It’s required a greater involvement in volunteers and they’ve really stepped up.”

Local corporations make it a point to impress on their employees the importance of volunteerism, noting it’s healthy for the community and for building morale within their businesses.

“We encourage people to get out and volunteer in the community,” says Ryan Pastore, vice president of client and community relations at PNC Bank’s Youngstown regional headquarters. “We match people up with what they’re passionate about, whether it’s the arts, education or economic development.”

Pastore says the bank’s early education initiative, PNC Grow Up Great, is its signature community effort that helps preschoolers get a head start before they enter kindergarten. “It began about 12 years ago,” he says, “and it’s one of the best ways we can have an impact.”

PNC’s local operation has three teams of volunteers who devote time to a particular center that provides early education resources. Once the volunteers attain a certain amount of hours, Pastore says, PNC will cut a grant check to their respective organizations.

The program is funded through the PNC Foundation, while some of the supplies, advocacy and awareness efforts are funded through the corporation.

Companywide, PNC employees have logged 575,000 volunteer hours and the foundation has awarded $4.7 million in grants over 12 years in 19 states, Pastore says. On average, Pastore says he devotes about 40 hours a year to volunteer efforts.

On a personal level, Pastore says he’s involved with a volunteer team at the Youngstown YWCA and is president of the board of Junior Achievement of Mahoning Valley and the Mahoning Valley College Access program. “My niche and passion is education,” he says.

The YWCA group, for example, helps facilitate kids’ visits to Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology in downtown Youngstown. “There are also cleanup days throughout the year. We’re involved in the Day of Caring doing some painting, and other things that we make sure works for the team and the YWCA,” he says.

Pictured: Success by 6 volunteer Shannon Stamp works with students at Youngstown Community School like Simone Lewis. She teaches reading, writing, math and “whatever they need.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.