Volunteer Johnson County Helps Connect Like-Minded Community Members
Every September Leadership Johnson County (LJC), a community leadership training program at Franklin College designed to train and strengthen 21st century leaders, holds an event at Whiteland High School’s gymnasium called “All Aboard,” in which members of nonprofit and community organizations gather to mingle with prospective volunteers. In September of 2019, Todd McMullen, a member of the LJC Class of 2020, was at the event with members of his group – Leeanne Lollar, Julie Gahimer, Weston Bryant, Daniel Frische, and David Wheatley – looking for projects that would assist the community in some way.
“We found that almost all of the booths were looking for volunteers,” McMullen says. “That led us to discuss what our community has, as far as a platform, for those who want to volunteer or are looking for volunteers through some kind of program.”
McMullen and his team decided to create Volunteer Johnson County as a way to connect volunteers with organizations. Originally, they considered designing a brochure that could be disseminated around the community but realized it would quickly become obsolete. A website was another option, but they knew it would require manpower and resources to keep it updated.
“As we teased it out, we recognized that social media was the way to go, as it’s easy to follow a page or join a group,” Bryant says. “A Facebook page was the best avenue for organizations to connect to one another. Plus, it was a self-sustaining platform.”
The Volunteer Johnson County Facebook page launched in late January of 2020 and was starting to gain momentum when the pandemic took center stage.
“We had things planned out and were trying to grow the page with events like ‘Rock the Block’ and other fundraising opportunities that were seeking volunteers,” McMullen says.
The group had also planned to do a service project together, then share their experience on their Facebook page, but when COVID-19 hit, events got cancelled and volunteer opportunities shriveled up. A few nonprofits, however, became overwhelmed, such as food pantries that could no longer utilize their consistent volunteer base because they are older folks in the high-risk category for contracting COVID-19. Wheatley decided to step in. During the pandemic, he volunteered at the Interchurch Food Pantry of Johnson County every Wednesday for more than two months and was transformed by the experience.
“I loved serving during the pandemic because so many of the guests who visited the pantry were otherwise extremely isolated, and it felt like a smile and some friendly conversation could make a significant impact,” Wheatley says. “Of course providing food to those who need it was a rewarding experience, but encouraging guests and sharing some positive energy during a dark time may have been the best part about volunteering.”
This six-member group graduated from the LJC program in July of 2020, and now Leadership Johnson County is the administrator of this program. The idea behind Volunteer Johnson County is to help nonprofits tell their stories and spread the word.
“At September 2019’s All Aboard fair, everyone told us they needed volunteers, but most didn’t explain why, and that piece is vital in captivating potential volunteers,” Bryant says.
This year, as a result of COVID-19, the All Aboard event became virtual, and this change had its perks. Every day throughout the month of September, the Volunteer Johnson County Facebook page featured a different nonprofit video.
Those who attend the All Aboard event represent various demographics. For instance, there are high school students looking to build resumes for college applications, youth groups wanting to explore educational projects, people on parole needing community service hours, and sports teams interested in building team unity.
While doing their research, the LJC group discovered that some people are reluctant to volunteer because they are afraid they’ll get sucked into a large time commitment.
“Maybe you just volunteer one Saturday for a few hours every couple of months – it doesn’t even have to be an ongoing commitment,” says Lollar, noting that the group also thought it would be wise to let volunteers know ahead of time what a given activity entails.
The group not only wants to make the process as easy and transparent as possible, but also wants to be sure people are matched up in terms of interests and abilities.
Organizations involved with Volunteer Johnson County include ASSIST Indiana, Reach for Youth, Beacon of Hope Crisis Center, Restore Old Town Greenwood, Inc., Upstream Prevention, Inc. and many more.
“It all comes back to LJC’s tagline of connecting passionate people with compassionate organizations in Johnson County,” Gahimer says.
Leadership Johnson County is located at Franklin College, 101 Branigin Boulevard in Franklin. For more information, call 317-738-8264 or visit LeadershipJohnsonCounty.org.