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A spirit of social generosity and community pride spread through City Council Chambers at a recent City Council meeting. City of Evanston Volunteer Coordinator Shanee Jackson presented an update on the renewed efforts driving the growth of the City’s Volunteer Program, an initiative that launched in March of this year. The program aims to increase public awareness of municipal services and organizations, to engage citizens in City government and to strengthen City department services by complementing paid staff with volunteers.
“Volunteers help connect, strengthen and enhance City services and programs,” Ms. Jackson explained. “We want to expand the level of public service beyond tax support limitations.”
Since March, the program has attracted 60 individual volunteers and three groups of volunteers. Volunteer opportunities are not limited to Evanston residents. In fact, Ms. Jackson pointed out that one of the volunteer efforts came from a youth group visiting from Davenport, Iowa. The group learned of volunteer opportunities in Evanston from the City’s website.
At the time, the City was trying to increase awareness of residential energy efficiency and gave Evanston residents compact fluorescent light bulbs in exchange for a signed EnergyStar pledge.
“Eleven students and a couple mentors spent a day to sticker all the light bulbs for us, and we had thousands of light bulbs.” said Ms. Jackson.
The volunteer program focuses on retaining existing volunteers by providing resources, materials, orientations and training. “We are also planning to host volunteer appreciation events, to give out awards and to participate in National Volunteer Week,” Ms. Jackson said.
With the foundation built and direction charted for the volunteer program, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says he is now focused on creating an online platform that will enable users to identify, schedule and track volunteer opportunities and hours. Mr. Bobkiewicz says he expects the site to be ready for use in early fall.
One benefit of the new platform is that multiple organizations will be able to post their needs in a single location. “It’ll be a community hub. It’s not just for the City of Evanston, but all of our community groups,” Ms. Jackson said. “So if you’re not sure where you want to volunteer, or you have no idea where to even start, our community hub will direct you to different opportunities available to you that match your interests,” she added.
“The opportunity for opportunities is huge. Our non-profits have wanted this solution for quite some time, and now the only challenge may be in keeping it updated,” said Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward. “But it looks like a lot of fun,” she added.
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, noted that such a site would be beneficial for Evanston high school students, who must meet community service requirements in order to graduate.
“This will make it easier for students to identify volunteer opportunities, and for parents looking at what direction to point their children in,” she said.