This is officially National Volunteer Week – a time to celebrate people doing extraordinary work simply out of the goodness of their spirit. In fact, if we had to pay all the selfless people who volunteer in our nation, by one estimate we’d have to come up with more than $130 billion a year.
But in a society where nearly everything has a price, it’s tough to put a dollar value on the contribution of volunteers. After all, how do you measure the worth of teaching someone to read, or rehabilitating a neighborhood park, or mentoring a child who becomes the first in his family to go to college – instead of jail?
Consider the recent volunteer project orchestrated by the nonprofit Hands On Orlando. Last month, nearly 100 volunteers from technology company UBM Channel came together to change the opportunities of everyday life for kids who live at Grandma’s House, a unit of Orlando Health & Rehabilitation Center for children and young adults with serious disabilities.
Essentially, it’s a long-term nursing home for youth – not a life any of us would choose.
But the Hands On volunteers did a lot make it better. Outside, they built benches and elevated garden boxes to wheelchair height, installed wheelchair ramps and decorative paver stones and put in plants for a new garden. They brought in a mobile petting zoo for the kids and some of the seniors and took them on “wheelchair walks” to explore.
They spent time playing games with the children and making puppets and decorative wheelchair blankets. They donated 200 new books and 200 new toys and set up a new entertainment system that included six donated large-screen TVs and two Xbox players.
They also donated 40 Dell tablets – enough for each child to have access.
The project took five months of planning and was underwritten by Microsoft, which also paid to take 12 of the kids to Universal Orlando for a day. In addition, a long list of tech companies – normally competitors – came together to donate equipment, services and time: Samsung, Dell, Eaton, McAfee, Symantec, Buffalo Technology, Interlink, Reflexion, Tandberg Data, AVG and Intronis.
“I can’t tell you how amazing this day … felt,” says Eric Martorano, one of the volunteers. “You walk away realizing how much you’ve gained out of it – more than what you gave.”
If you’re interested in volunteering, Hands On Orlando is a good place to start. You can pick a project and sign up as an individual, company or group, and Hands On takes care of all the planning and coordination. Most projects last for three hours and require no long-term commitment. None involve administrative work or fundraising – and all support Central Florida nonprofits, schools or parks.
You might help the homeless and hungry, at-risk children and families, seniors, veterans, the environment or abandoned animals.
“It’s a great program,” says Keith Durkin, 34, an attorney at Broad & Cassel. Through Hands On Orlando, he has volunteered at a children’s birthday party at a homeless shelter, cooked meals at a soup kitchen in Seminole County, and helped clean kennels at the Orlando SPCA. “You go in, you’re with a group, and you actually have fun while you’re making a difference.”