PTH: How Omaha nonprofits old and young have integrated virtual volunteering into their outreach

Posted at 7:36 AM, Feb 25, 2022

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Open Door Mission and RISE are different in purpose and size; however, the nonprofits have a significant commonality.

The Mission, founded in 1954, and RISE, founded in 2016, have traditionally reached the people they serve in-person. Over the last two years, both organizations determined it would be essential to take a new approach.

"We shut down for quite a while to volunteers and then we had to shut down outreach centers to the community," said Amy Harvey, chief community relations officer at Open Door Mission.

"We have more people in need and less volunteers to help fill the need," she said.

Open Door Mission is a pillar organization, as described by SHARE Omaha Executive Director Marjorie Maas. Her organization serves more than 650 nonprofits including Open Door Mission and RISE.

"Many of our pillar nonprofits — when I say pillars, I mean those nonprofits you always think about — like the shelters, like the American Red Cross who serve basic human needs, have experienced sharp declines in volunteers since the beginning of COVID," Maas said.

At RISE, the decline was more cause-and-effect.

"When you are in this line of work, you just become very scrappy because you have to adapt," said McKenzie Ring, director of marketing at RISE.

The organization, which prepares people in prison for reentry into society, adapted by creating an online portal for volunteers. Today, those volunteers mentor virtually instead of going into Nebraska's prison facilities.

Chantal Wentz is a colleague of Ring's and knows well how RISE volunteers can impact a life.

"I was actually incarcerated at the Nebraska Correctional Center for Women in York," Wentz shared. "It's come full circle for me as a participant of the program and now as a staff member."

Wentz is one of 523 graduates of RISE to date. She took part in dozens of programs and classes, all of which were conducted by volunteers.

"So now I'm sitting across from someone who is pouring their wisdom and their experience and their time into me, which was priceless. It's absolutely priceless," she recalled.

Ring said if you care, you're qualified to volunteer.

"If you've purchased a product, if you've used a service, if you have started a business, if you've thought about starting a business, if you're an employee of any kind or you've been through the system, you are genuinely qualified to volunteer with RISE," Ring said.

For Open Door Mission, at-home opportunities include making sack lunches, baking desserts
and creating inspiration cards.

"If you're a fleece blanket person, and you can tie some knots, we are always in need of blankets," said Harvey. "And that's something that we can give our guests that when they leave, they can take it with them."

Though these opportunities were born from the most unexpected and challenging of circumstances, it's hard to imagine a future without them, Maas said.

"People still want to have purpose and fulfillment in their community experience and if these are ways that you can engage even more people, I don't think nonprofits are going to move away from them completely."

To volunteer virtually or in-person for, click here for Open Door Mission's website and click here for RISE's website.

For a list of dozens of virtual volunteer opportunities through SHARE Omaha, visit this site and click on 'Location' (on the left side of the page), then click 'Work From Anywhere.'

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