“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” - William Shakespeare

With daily lives filled balancing work and family, it is inspiring to know that people in Idaho can still find time to give to others. In fact, in 2014, Idaho was ranked No. 2 in the country in volunteerism, with 35.8 percent of its residents logging 51 million hours of service in one year.

One of the keys to finding an effective and enthusiastic volunteer is to match someone with opportunities that best utilize his or her talents. And if you are involved in any of the several hundred nonprofit groups in Boundary and Bonner counties, you know finding volunteers is never an easy task.

Fortunately, Volunteer Idaho Panhandle Coordinator Elise Boyce has successfully matched volunteers with the needs of numerous nonprofit groups over the last several months.

“Sandpoint Community Resource Center works to bridge the gap with needs of the community with service providers,” said Boyce. “One way to further meet the needs is to fill the gap and connect volunteers with the needs [of the nonprofits].”

The mission behind Volunteer Idaho Panhandle is to have one central place where volunteers can go to get connected with volunteer opportunities. The Volunteer Idaho Panhandle project features training and registering organizations and volunteers on VolunteerUnited.org, a website that utilizes a matching tool for volunteers and nonprofits. The project also has a marketing campaign to help promote volunteerism is both Boundary and Bonner counties, provides monthly Volunteer Idaho Panhandle orientations, volunteer management training, tracking and reporting on local volunteer activities, and they also host an annual volunteer fair in both Bonner and Boundary counties.

The online matching tool is run by the United Way and Serve Idaho and can be accessed by logging onto VolunteerUnited.org. But that is just one way to connect volunteers with organizations.

“We can also meet face-to-face with people who would like to volunteer, and we hold monthly ‘mini fairs’ to help volunteers find their perfect match,” said Boyce, who adds that she also works closely with realtors who can assist some of their clients who are moving to the area get plugged into opportunities where they can connect with others.

The impact of engaged volunteers in the community cannot be understated. When working with various nonprofits, Boyce said she emphasizes that it is important to find a variety of people to volunteer in each organization so everyone can utilize his or her own talents. “Also, each organization should have a volunteer coordinator,” said Boyce of maximizing the benefits of having people give of their time and talent. “A lot of organizations experience volunteer burnout, therefore, make sure the volunteer is a good fit and clarify their role.”

The online matching tool in the two northern counties has already had 2,000 views in the six months it has been up and running, and Boyce hopes that is just the beginning. She has filled her days with attending events, meeting one-on-one with organizations and enthusiastically welcomes any opportunity she has to help spread the word.

According to Boyce, Sandpoint Community Resource Center has found there are three major gaps when it comes to meeting the needs of the community. Those gaps are transportation, housing and financial challenges. “The needs are great, and finding the volunteers can be challenging,” she said.

Boyce shares that her role is fulfilling and she appreciates the support she has received from the community. She took on this task of working on Volunteer Idaho Panhandle for a period of one year as a member of AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service To America), a program that originated with an idea from President John F. Kennedy and was officially formed in 1965. With a minimal salary, AmeriCorps VISTA members serve for one year and help to build capacity in nonprofit organizations and public agencies to help them more effectively generate the commitment of private sector resources, encourage volunteer service at the local level and empower individuals and communities.

There is an advisory board that is made up of people from the community including representatives from various nonprofits as well as a representative from the Department of Health and Welfare.

Erin Binnall is the community engagement specialist and foundation coordinator for Bonner General Health and is a member of Volunteer Idaho Panhandle’s advisory board.

“Volunteering can provide both physical and mental rewards to individuals. It allows new and old community members an opportunity to get to know the valuable resources we have here in Sandpoint,” said Binnall. “Volunteer Idaho Panhandle is a great way for volunteers to be matched with volunteer opportunities. Many times, some of us want to volunteer, but we are just not sure where to begin or do not want to be sucked into long-term commitments. VolunteerUnited.org can give individuals, families, groups of friends interested in giving back, dates and community events that may meet their needs and wants in both short-term and long-term. I believe volunteering is a healthy and fun way to strengthen our community.”

She said her role as an advisory board member has been to support the efforts of the project through community awareness and volunteering. “We met weekly in the beginning supporting Elise and Becca [Orchard with Sandpoint Community Resource Center] with brainstorming, branding, marketing and more.”

VolunteerUnited is not just touching people in North Idaho. There are people working throughout the entire state, and the results have been amazing.

To date statewide, 686 nonprofit groups have registered on VolunteerUnited, and there have been 87,450 agency views since the day they launched. During the first six months of this year, there were 29,611 volunteer opportunities viewed online.

In Bonner County, there have been several agencies who are already utilizing Volunteer Idaho Panhandle, among those registered are Bonner General Health, Bonner Partners in Care Clinic, Community Cancer Services, Creations, East Bonner County Free Library, Jacey’s Race, Mountain States Early Head Start, NAMI Far North, North Idaho Crisis Services, Panhandle Animal Shelter, Pend Oreille Arts Council, Priest River Ministries Advocates for Women, Sandpoint Area Seniors, Life Choices Pregnancy Center, Sandpoint Youth Center and Underground Kindness.

In Boundary County thus far, The Pearl Theater and Pawsitive Works have both signed up.

By going onto the website, you are able to click on an agency that may interest you and learn more about their mission and needs. It’s a great way to find out more about the countless opportunities available.

As for Boyce, she said she is enjoying her role as an AmeriCorps VISTA member and is grateful for the opportunity to serve. “I enjoy meeting so many kind, passionate and caring people that really care about our community,” said Boyce. “I am a people person, so I really enjoy the random connections.”

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