United Way volunteers are a ‘community’s greatest asset’

August 9, 2022

United Way of Greater Atlanta is known by its tagline: “Give, Advocate, Volunteer,” and during the COVID-19 pandemic, our community has also seen this as its rallying cry.

How do we help those most affected by this economic and health crisis?

We united to do more for a community in a time of great need, advocating for those whose voices were not being heard and we also stepped in to help families facing eviction throughout this crisis. But one of the byproducts of the pandemic was how it hampered our ability to volunteer in person.

In order to maintain that mission of volunteering and continue the work we’ve done so far to change the lives of more than 82,000 children, we had to adapt — we had to innovate. So, volunteering went virtual.

Immediately, our staff and volunteers started to collaborate to find new ways to continue the work.

“We responded in the best way we know how: bringing groups together and listening to the needs of our agency partners and community volunteers,” says Lauren Rock, Director of Individual Engagement in the Office of Development for United Way. “Supporting individuals and families would take all of us being aware of our roles and working strategically. While the beginning of the pandemic required immediate response, we have followed guidelines by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to ensure that everyone can contribute safely in any way they are interested.”

Rock met with members of the Young Professional Leaders and LINC affinity groups to explore these different ways to strategically respond to the needs of partner agencies. Together, they landed on one big way they could help on what would normally be a traditional day of service in the organization and around the world.

Rose Reardon, LINC board chair, was a part of the planning for what eventually became a Child Well-Being Hackathon on Martin Luther King Day in January 2021.

“I think it stemmed from what we found in our LINC membership, and that is we’re a group full of people who want to problem-solve while doing some good in the community,” Reardon says. “We wanted to use our professional powers to help with organizational challenges, and anything we can do to serve our community better.”

This “Hackathon” was aimed at helping local nonprofit agencies identify challenges, understand their goal and mission and then try to find solutions to help them grow, become more efficient and find ways to maximize their impact in the midst of a global pandemic. These organizations were selected based on a set of criteria that amplified youth voices, created digital access to literacy tools and increased equitable outcomes for communities impacted by structural racism.

“There was robust conversation and ideas spewing out of everybody,” Reardon says. “We were bringing our knowledge, network and resources to these nonprofits and saying, ‘How can I help you with the resources and connections I have?’”

That’s to be expected with volunteers at United Way of Greater Atlanta. Volunteering in Greater Atlanta is important work—work that is never over. Through the week of April 18-24, we honor volunteers around the world, but specifically in Greater Atlanta, for National Volunteer Week—volunteers like Reardon who lead groups like LINC. This event was just one example of the ways people can volunteer virtually.

“Our volunteer leadership provides guidance for the opportunities each network elevates for its members, partners and the community,” Rock says. “This is based on what opportunities…or solutions have been identified to make an impact.”

United Way’s Volunteerism team offers guidance on the opportunities that each network can pass along to its members, partners and the community, Rock says.

“Public servants, like volunteers, are a community’s greatest asset,” she says. “We have seen this during this pandemic and for every critical moment of response.”

Volunteering is something that’s at the core of who Reardon is, she says. Her family has stressed the importance of giving back to people whenever you can—her mom is a nurse, and she says her dad is the type of person who would “run into a McDonald’s and buy breakfast to hand out to people” on any given day whether at home or even on vacation.

“When I became an independent, young adult moving away from home, I had to figure out what [giving back] meant for me and what that looked like,” Reardon says. “I got involved at first through corporate campaign, but then I got looped into what we’re doing as Young Professionals or LINC. For me, it was a way to get to know my Atlanta community.”

Reardon is what she would consider a “people-person,” and “problem solver” — this is part of what had drawn her join LINC in the first place.

“It was a great way for me to donate and know that my money was going to a good place,” Reardon says. “If there’s a way for me to volunteer, give back and be out and about in my community, then that’s a huge win.”

If you want give back to your community and change the lives of children and families that will go on to change the lives of countless more, we must Unite for More. Can children, families and Greater Atlanta communities count on you?