As a Human Resources employee for a large international firm in the Philippines, Dee Wilson had worked in human resources organizing annual health and wellness fairs for 2000 employees. But after a fruitless job search following moving to the US and settling in Gwinnett with her new husband, Wilson still wanted something to do in her spare time.
When she saw an ad in Gwinnett Magazine in 2012 promoting Volunteer Gwinnett and all the possible volunteer opportunities, she jumped at the chance. She started volunteering in the HR department and has worked there for two years.
“I wanted to be productive,” she explained. “I also want to get a job and by volunteering I get to meet professionals in my field and can do professional networking.
The program is a result of a 2009 effort by Engage Gwinnett in which a special committee representing different interest groups and constituencies looked at how the county could do more with less.
“One initiative was the idea of formalizing a program to use volunteers to help the county keep the level of services up even through a downturn in the economy,” said Gwinnett County Public Relations Manager Heather Sawyer.
She explained that a bold goal of reaching one million volunteer hours by 2015 was set by the Gwinnett County Commission.
“The program was so successful! We reached the one million mark in the first full year of Volunteer Gwinnett. By the end of 2013, we exceeded the goal by 25,000 hours,” said a smiling Sawyer. “So the total for the first complete year was 1.25 million hours.”
Before the 2012 launch of Volunteer Gwinnett, volunteer engagement was mainly in the community services department because it had heavily involved community volunteers for many years. Once the Volunteer Gwinnett idea was adopted, a new website was created that centralized everything to make it easy for citizens to find them if they wanted to volunteer.
“The website is a good tool that makes registration easy, seamless and quick - like buying an airline ticket,” Sawyer explained.
“It’s all posted. What each department is looking for: internships, helping elderly with yard work, delivering meals to seniors, teaching computer skills.”
Enter Kay Sibetta, who with a background in community relations in Baltimore, Maryland, was hired as the Volunteer Gwinnett Coordinator.
“I was on board from the beginning,” she beamed. “I enjoy working with the Gwinnett community to create awareness about the program.
“Gwinnett is such a diverse community. It takes a village to make a community great and we certainly have that here. People volunteer for the passion, not for reward and they love to make a difference.”
She says she loves working with people and they are special to her… people like Wilson; people like Irene Eggeling and Alioune and Mariama Ba.
Volunteer Irene Eggeling
Although Irene Eggeling began volunteering long before Volunteer Gwinnett came into existence, she is very much part of the program.
Her volunteer career with Gwinnett County began after retiring from a company where she worked for 51 years as a public relations coordinator.
“I was bored to death and saw an ad for mentoring middle school children,” she recalled. She was a mentor when she learned in 2007 that most parents in her neighborhood couldn’t read materials their children’s teachers were sending home. She was mortified and convinced Norcross Human Services Center to start a class for adults to learn reading and writing in English.
Since then Eggeling has been teaching English basics to adults from all over the world and even added a separate computer class when students asked her if she could teach computer basics.
She explained that a normal week for her is teaching English on Mondays and Wednesdays; reading and writing for two hours on Tuesdays; computer classes for two hours on Thursdays; and on Wednesday afternoons/evenings – Seniors computer classes and conversational English.
After learning about Volunteer Gwinnett on the internet, Alioune and Mariama Ba work in the Transportation and Financial Services Department assisting with ordering office supplies, filing, and perform other administrative functions.
Volunteer Mariama and Alioune Ba
Both volunteer to give back to their county and their countries and to get experience that might help them get jobs.
“I want my county to benefit from what I do,” Alioune said. “I also want a job that can help me take care of more people in Africa.”
The couple are from West Africa, Alioune from Senegal and Mariama from Guinea. They met here in the US and have six children.
Mariama has a degree in business administration from Guinea but to get a job here, she needs more education so she has cut her volunteer work from three days to one day while going back to school.
Volunteers like these four people from all walks of life have logged in 850,000 hours through August of this year. With numbers like that, the county is on track to attain one million plus hours again.
Regardless of the high numbers, there are still many needs.
One need is volunteers to help provide safe havens for kids after school. “Our children are a vulnerable population that need help and many parents depend on dropping their kids off to enjoy quality parks and recreation sports programs, knowing they are safe,” Sibetta said. “There are great leadership opportunities for teens through the Parks and Recreation Department.
“We also need more manpower to make our environment better, doing things like keeping our streams clean.”
There are opportunities to volunteer at events on weekends and holidays like the Public Safety Festival coordinated by the Fire and Police departments; the Great Day of Service in October; American Recycles Day in November; beautification projects and more, she said.
Sawyer estimates that through Volunteer Gwinnett the county has saved between $20 and $25 million if you figure $22/hour as a common dominator.
“We are very proud of (Volunteer Gwinnett’s) accomplishments since the launch in February 2012 and so grateful to our thousands of volunteers, staff and countless community partners who help us provide the quality services, programs and activities to our residents,” Sibetta stated.
“It’s rewarding to feel that I can help others become good Americans through teaching them English,” Eggeling reflected.
“You should all do what you can for your country and not expect to just (take) from your country,” Alioune said. “The only way to give back is to volunteer whether it’s one hour or a week.”
To search for volunteer opportunities, go to www.volunteergwinnett.net or call Kay Sibetta at 770.822.7955
Make a positive impact in the Gwinnett community. Volunteer today!