Photo and article by Mary Alice Murphy
Former director of The Volunteer Center (TVC) and The Commons, Alicia Edwards, and the current director of The Commons, Dave Chandler, held a small event to announce the coming launch of the virtual TVC. An open house will take place at The Commons from 2-4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023.
Edwards said the original TVC was formed to connect community volunteers to help meet the needs of the Silver City and Grant County community, which includes poverty and food insecurity.
The Commons, a facility at 501 E. 13th Street, which includes a commercial kitchen, a large community garden, and a place to host food distribution to those who need it, was built to house The Volunteer Center and its programs.
The Commons now has food distribution programs in 11 elementary schools, two middle schools and the university in after-school programs.
Chandler noted the Kids Count annual survey represents the deep needs in New Mexico and Grant County. "The Commons is committed to addressing food insecurity."
He noted the annual budget for The Commons is $350,000, about double what it was two years ago, because of the increased needs.
The Commons has four part-time staff and about 60 volunteers that help not only with food distribution, but also with tending the large garden and harvesting the produce and preparing it for distribution.
"We work with entrepreneurs in the commercial kitchen to help lift them out of poverty," Chandler said. "We have been providing food to students and are pleased to have finally gotten into the Cobre Schools."
Chandler said that they plan to soon open a district pantry at Cobre High School. "We are in every elementary school in the county. For the first part, we want to meet the immediate needs. We serve about 800 households a month, including in Hachita, Silver City, the MIning District, Mimbres and Cliff-Gila. We work with partners. The second part of our mission is to build resiliency. We work with 65 non-profits. We want to be the one-stop place for volunteers. We are fostering volunteers."
Edwards gave a brief history. "This organization, now known as The Commons used to be The Volunteer Center. The Grant County Community Health Council started The Volunteer Center in 2004 as part of the Life Cycle work. I came in 2006 to lead TVC. We were looking to fund it and to address the reason it exists—to meet the needs of the community. In evaluating what the community needs were, it became obvious that the underlying challenges were poverty and hunger. The Commons came about as a vehicle for the work of ending hunger and poverty in Grant County. When I left in 2015, we did away with The Volunteer Center and just became The Commons. Dave and I both have long histories with volunteer centers and have been talking in fits and starts about volunteer management and capacity building for non-profits. Combining the work of The Commons and the virtual Volunteer Center will allow us to continue building community resilience and capacity.
The Volunteer Center will be online at TVCgrantcounty.com."
She said the model is One Albuquerque. "They have hundreds of volunteer opportunities on their website. Each day they have more than 100 volunteer opportunities available. If you're a volunteer, you can sign up and see the opportunities."
"At present we have only two listed, food distribution on the first Saturday of the month and the last Wednesday," she continued. "By the end of the year, we hope to have many more. As a volunteer, you click Respond. If you want an account, you create an account and choose whatever interests you have. When cat cuddling is your interest, you get a text or email confirming your choice."
Beginning on Jan. 1, 2024, "It will cost you $100 a year to belong to this platform."
Chandler said on Sept. 13, people can begin to sign up and "you can make your choices and get training. We will provide 65 agencies that we have identified as needing volunteers. We are hoping that the $100 will not be a barrier to those wishing to volunteer. You can use the platform free up until Jan. 1, 2024. We may have staggered fees or we might charge more. The platform is well known and trusted."
Edwards said The Volunteer Center was founded to attract older people with money who wanted to volunteer. "The county owns two senior centers, which serve those who have money and those who don't. The level of poverty in this county is 30 percent, but when it comes to seniors, 40 percent are living in poverty. The Commons is a fantastic example of not being able to provide services without volunteers. We use a lot of volunteers. We will sign up the county for when emergencies bring the need to volunteers, such as sandbags in case of flooding."
Laura Phelps, Freeport-McMoRan manager of social performance, noted those without funds are also welcome to volunteer for whatever they want to do to help.
Edwards noted the hourly value of a volunteer is set at $29.65 in New Mexico. "People who are serial volunteers give thousands of dollars a value a year. That value helps with grant writing."
"This website will make it possible for us to look at the volunteer hours and the dollar value," Edwards said. "The sky is the limit. It will depend on the agency manager. They can do an email blast or a text blast. A person can opt out of either. One of the challenges of non-profits is always communication."
A woman asked if the website could tell the value of what a person's volunteering would be. Edwards said: "That is a great idea. For instance, a person volunteering 1000 hours a year equals $29,000 for that year."
County Manager Charlene Webb, one of those present, asked how the value is determined.
Chandler said he thought it was a federal number for each state. "We can also tailor our message. Now, we always have a clipboard to sign people up."
Edwards said while they are building the website, "we are able to tailor opportunities to Grant County. The other piece, we were told about during training calls, is that we can upload data to an Excel spreadsheet. I said: 'We can't upload clipboards.'"
Sharon Offutt of Freeport-McMoRan asked if a person could input that they need, for instance, a dog walker.
Edwards said: "No, but you can email TVC and they will connect you."
Chandler said they plan a lot of outreach on this new virtual TVC, so that people know it's here.
Edwards said when she previously worked for The Volunteer Center, "I was the only employee. Most calls were 'How can I get help?' or "How can I volunteer?'"
She said if Jay (Brady, Commons pantry manager) wants to sign up, it is done within a few minutes. "It looks great on a phone and it's also an app. You can go to any listed website and have it show up on your phone as an icon. That's why we decided to use Galaxy as the platform, because signs up are unlimited—it's for anyone using volunteers for any reason. "
A woman asked if the library could get assistance.
Edwards said to contact The Commons.
A man commented: "I think the nuance is not between us, but among us."
Edwards said anyone can attend or send a representative to the Open House from 2-4 p.m., Wed, Sept. 13, at The Commons. "We will input the representative information for your agency. The United Way gave us some funding for this project and The Commons also provided funding."