A New Way Forward

Acts of Service continues connecting volunteers and nonprofits

Generosity often looks like a check in the mail. A legacy gift. A fundraiser. Financial outpourings make a deep impact, but so too do small acts of service—a helping hand, a pint of blood or an hour of volunteering.

For years, the Community Foundation of Elkhart County has worked to improve quality of life in Elkhart County by inspiring all types of generosity. When Acts of Service joined our ranks in late 2019, it opened new connections between local nonprofits and volunteers.

Acts of Service was founded in 2017 with a simple, powerful premise: offer practical ways for people to make a difference in their communities. Director Ashley Jordan describes Acts of Service as “a matchmaker between nonprofits’ needs and volunteers we have in the community.” 

Anyone, from individuals to business partners, can get plugged in with Acts of Service. Like the hub of a wheel, the web-based platform connects community members and business partners with unmet needs all over
the region. It illuminates avenues for volunteering that people might not have the time or resources to discover on their own. The result? Exponential growth in community involvement, stronger nonprofits,
and a network of goodness spread from corner to corner in Elkhart County—and beyond. 

Jennifer Kattau, the Human Resources Business Partner at Beacon Health System, has seen firsthand how volunteering makes a difference—for both nonprofits and volunteers. Before partnering with Acts of Service, Beacon had no formalized volunteer initiative. Last year, employees of the healthcare system spent more than 1,500 hours volunteering at dozens of nonprofits in the region.

In years past, most Beacon employees volunteered at Ronald McDonald House, if at all. Now, Kattau says staff  members have gotten involved at the food bank, Hope Ministries, pet rescues, and more.

“People are now figuring out their little niches of volunteering,” she says with a smile.

Through her work and family life, Kattau is deeply rooted in her community. Still, Acts of Service has led her to volunteer at non profits
she had never heard of before. She says Reins of Life, which provides equine therapy for children with disabilities in St. Joseph County, stands out the most. Recently, Kattau and a group of Beacon employees spent the day mowing, painting, and setting up the dressage arena. 

“It wasn’t just the HR team. It was pharmacy, radiology—people I would not
normally cross paths with,” she says. “And when people volunteer, they check their egos at the door. They’re there to do something else. They’re on neutral territory. It’s nice to see people volunteer, connect, and give back.”

That day, the spirit of volunteerism lifted everyone’s morale. Reins of Life staff members felt supported and acknowledged. Beacon employees experienced new levels of camaraderie, along with the deep satisfaction that comes from making a positive difference in others’ lives. And then, of course, the children who arrived for equine therapy received focused, undivided attention from instructors who would have otherwise spent time cleaning and setting up.

Despite—or perhaps because of—the hours of hard work, people left more energized and inspired than when they arrived.

“It’s empowering for people to step out of their comfort zones,” Jordan says. “Before you know it, they’re spreading positivity.” Kattau nods. “And people fill their cups by giving back.”

“People fill their cups by giving back.”

— Jennifer Kattau
    HR Business Partner at Beacon Health System

Volunteering: A two-way path

When Acts of Service connects people to their communities through volunteer opportunities, area nonprofits benefit too. As Jordan says, the initiative is “a two-way pathway.”

Because of Acts of Service, volunteers such as Kattau and her team are equally exposed to hundreds of registered nonprofits in the region. Individuals and business partners get a close look at the great opportunities and emerging needs in their communities. They also learn that being generous with time takes many forms: coaching a Little League team, helping in a school classroom, teaching Sunday school, handing out cups of water at a 5k fundraiser, or even sewing masks for healthcare workers. There are endless ways to do good.

Jordan says that more business partners are joining the movement. More nonprofits are getting the help they need.

The Road Ahead

In the wake of 2020, nonprofits are stepping in to meet more needs than ever. With the help of volunteers, nonprofits expand their staff members’ capacity for mission-specific tasks. Thus, partnerships between businesses and not-for-profit initiatives could be key to moving the entire community forward.

In the next decade, Jordan hopes more nonprofits realize the potential for volunteers to help expand capacity in remarkable ways. Perhaps the paths forged between local businesses and nonprofits will create a better, brighter future for the entire community. 

You can learn more about Acts of Service and even sign up to become a part of the team at ActsofService.com.

This story originally appeared in the 2020 Annual Report of the Community Foundation.

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