Orange County has a long history of volunteerism where residents often step forward and offer their rich, diverse pool of talents and skills in an effort to help others in need. Despite a spirit of giving, historically, there has been a lack of communication between individuals who are willing to give their time and various social service programs that are in need of volunteers.
Two years ago, Orange County Supervisor, Jim Silva, recognized the potential benefits to be gained from tapping into the community. Silva explored the concept of creating a volunteer program to help coordinate all volunteer opportunities available throughout county government. As a result, the Orange County Volunteer Program was established in 1997.
In its first year of implementation, the OC Volunteer Program worked in conjunction with 15 county agencies that sponsor more than 30 volunteer and internship programs. Annually, 14,350 people contribute more than 670,000 volunteer hours throughout the County. These contributions represent $10 million in avoided county costs. The only cost of the program is the salary of one full-time employee, the Volunteer Coordinator.
This program functions as the primary contact for existing volunteer programs throughout the county. In addition, the program facilitates expansion by working with county agencies and departments to create additional volunteer opportunities. The program has created a vital link between volunteer agencies, schools and universities, senior citizens groups as well as religious and private sector groups.
The OC Volunteer Program has strengthened several volunteer projects throughout the county by providing additional support to county agencies, enabling them to fine-tune their volunteer and internship programs. Volunteers serve the community in a variety of ways. Individuals may serve as mentors to children experiencing emotional problems through “Project Together.” Others may volunteer for the “Cold Weather Homeless Program,” setting up cots and serving hot meals in the evenings for homeless people in search of shelter from the cold. Still others may find they can reach a child who has been placed in the juvenile detention facility through the probation department’s “VIP” program. Regardless of where a volunteer’s strengths and interests lie, the Orange County Volunteer Program facilitates proper recruitment and matches.
The program has not only administratively strengthened the volunteer and internship programs by making them more efficient, but, more importantly, it has allowed more people to be touched by generosity of individuals desiring to give of their time.