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Maine VolunteerFare

Providing Warmth to Neighbors One Volunteer at a Time

Published December 28, 2011

By Whitney Guthrie, AmeriCorps VISTA

Sometimes the caring hands of volunteers can provide as much warmth during the cold winter months as a custom fit storm window panel or door sweep. Keep York County Warm is a completely community based program that brings together York County residents to install weatherization materials and storm window panels in the homes of those in need of staying warm during winter. The program, which began after funding was cut to the Keep ME Warm program two years ago, has relied on the generosity of community members to act as donors of time, materials, and funds. This year, with the need greater than ever, more volunteers were needed to help in this effort. It has always been important for the United Way to provide many different forms of volunteer opportunities to the community, and this project has helped us do that.

Keep York County Warm relies on episodic volunteering as a way to engage new community members in the program. With taglines like, "Warm a Saturday" and "Donate a Saturday to Warm a Home," it has been our hope to promote an experience for people that will be beneficial to their need of making a difference in a single day and is a very personal, direct service opportunity to help their neighbors within the community.

More than 80% of volunteers who work on this program have commented that it was an eye-opening experience that showed them how drastic some of their neighbor's needs are when it comes to keeping the cold out, and the warmth in. In fact, many of the volunteers will continue to give of their time beyond the designated service day by going back to homes that needed more help. Our youngest volunteer, who at age four arrived with his tape measure and grandfather on our assessment day on November 19th helped to emphasize another important part of Keep York County Warm, that anyone of any age can provide value when volunteering, even if his contribution was simply to bring a smile to the faces of the homeowners who saw him arrive.

The idea of episodic volunteering also plays an integral role in our Youth Service Day that provides various students at local high schools with the opportunity to help build the storm window panels and weatherize homes on a specific date in November.

This form of volunteering adds value to our programs in a significant way. With the lives of community members hurriedly a buzz from one month to another, volunteering for this type of program allows people the chance to make a visible difference in a day, and to decide if they would like to volunteer again for Keep York County Warm, for their neighbor down the street, or for school credit. It has also allowed for us to broaden our definition of a donor. With times being hard for many to give financially, the ability for people to be 'donors of time' is a push that continues to be important to make during our outreach for Keep York County Warm, and additional projects throughout the year.

It's a simple, well-understood notion that it gets cold in Maine, that many people will lose heat through the gapping holes of their homes and bills, and that by donating a Saturday you truly can help to warm someone's heart and home.