TAKE 5: VolunteerLee.com puts help where it's needed

Apr. 05, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

This week we Take 5 with Ron Hewett about VolunteerLee.com. For the past five years, Hewett has chaired the Education Matters committee for United Way of Lee County. Out of that group's efforts came several initiatives to gain community support for the school system. One of the initiatives, VolunteerLee.com, was organized to supply the school system with volunteers. In the process of developing the website, it became evident that all organizations and churches in Lee County could use some help, so the effort was expanded.

What is VolunteerLee.com is all about?

VolunteerLee.com is a web-based network that allows organizations looking for volunteers to link up with folks in the Lee County community who want to volunteer. Organizations and potential volunteers go to www.VolunteerLee.com and follow the prompts to get connected. Any organization that is family friendly and offers services to the community can be represented. Citizens can view the site and join without a commitment. This is our second year in operation as a program of the United Way, and we rely on support from concerned citizens and civic clubs.

How is the system working so far?

We currently experience more than 2,500 views of our organizations each month and more than 1,500 views of their needs each month. We have 700 users registered and 60 organizations. On numerous occasions, I have had people tell me personal stories of getting linked up with volunteers or organizations through the site. To date, we have filled 196 needs through the system. It works! But we can do more.

What can we look forward to?

Kendra Martin has just joined our effort to promote the site. She is using her business background and community knowledge to make some website adjustments and work with all our organizations and churches. So far, we have just scratched the surface of the various capabilities of the system. Kendra also is available to help new organizations get onto the site with a minimum amount of start-up effort; email her at kendramartin@leecountyunitedway.org. With her as an additional resource, we should be able to get to the “next level.” Recently, some big hitters in our community joined the network — American Red Cross, Salvation Army and Toys for Tots, as well as several other valuable organizations that are trying to increase their visibility and impact on the Lee County community.

Have you had any surprises?

Not many. We knew it would take about three years to get the system up and running and promoted so that it would become the “go to” site to get connected. More and more people are realizing what a variety of opportunities exist in Lee County and the region where they can contribute their time and talent. The site not only provides a direct link to volunteer, it also provides a community bulletin board of activities and events.

My personal surprise came when I saw a need for mentors on the B.T. Bullock Elementary School page last year. They were looking for adults to come in, sit with students for 45 minutes each week and have them read to you. Despite my feeling that I was already over-committed, I signed up and — surprise! The hour each week I spent at the school was probably the most fun and rewarding that I could have ever imagined.

What's your message to people considering taking part?

Every single person in Lee County has something to contribute to this wonderful community of ours. Go to VolunteerLee.com, look over the organizations that need your help, join up and explore. If you see something that interests you, get involved!