When it comes to adages, “the life that ends up changing the most is probably going to be your own” is a gold standard in a volunteer’s world. Nearly six years ago, a group of philanthropists belonging to Social Venture Partners Pittsburgh (SVP) approached an ally, Pittsburgh Cares, with a proposal to expose children to community engagement and philanthropy, jumpstarting a cycle of service to transform lives.
Pittsburgh Cares, an affiliate of the Hands On network, is the primary volunteer center for Allegheny County in Pennsylvania. The organization which runs four distinct programs, Business Cares, Community Connections, RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) and YES—Youth Engaged in Service, is well known for their youth focused programs.
SVP Kids was born as a result of the partnership between SVP Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Cares. “The program we developed [for SVP] engages the children in monthly service projects, with Toys for Tots representing their largest and most extensive project,” says Deb Hopkins, Executive Director of Pittsburgh Cares, “We also guide them through a mini-grant cycle. They issue Requests for Proposals from nonprofits for small projects ($250 – $500 level). The SVP Kids review the proposals and award the grants – using the knowledge they’ve gained through their year of service in the nonprofit community through Pittsburgh Cares.” The Pittsburgh Cares staff mentor and guide SVP Pittsburgh through that process.
The goal of the SVP Kids program is to create awareness among young people about the responsibilities and rewards of both giving time and money to nonprofits in the local community. Since the partnership began, the SVP Kids have invested 1,620 hours of their time and have awarded a total of $10,000 in grants to area nonprofits.
Pittsburgh Cares implements all this and more with a staff of seven people. They coordinate around 12,000 volunteers, averaging about 65,000 volunteer hours a year. Says Hopkins, “this year, the Toys for Tots program will distribute 70,000 toys to a couple hundred nonprofits and faith-based organizations in the area.” Toys for Tots volunteers sort through toys and help deliver them, with the belief that “every kid deserves a little joy” during the Holiday season.
Says Hopkins, “The best part of the job is that volunteers are always in a good mood. When you volunteer you do it because you want to. You’re committed to making a difference. When people walk through our doors they feel great about themselves and they’re feeling wonderful about the impact that they’re making in the community. For me I feel like I’m just surrounded by positive energy all the time.”
Pittsburgh Cares, opened its doors in 1994 and partnered with Social Venture Partners Pittsburgh in 2008. Their collaborative relationship to engage youth to serve their community has earned them today’s Daily Point of Light Award. To learn more about their work, visit www.pittsburghcares.org or www.socialventurepartners.org/pittsburgh.