Long Island Volunteer Center Shares Volunteer Stories

Oct 13, 2023

The Points of Light Global Network work to create impact around the world. This innovative network operates with organizations, with 145 affiliates across 39 countries around the world. Together, we are inspiring, equipping and mobilizing more people to use their time, talent and resources to create positive change in their communities.

We spoke with Diana O’Neill, executive director at Long Island Volunteer Center, Inc., a Points of Light affiliate in New York, to discuss why volunteer stories matter and hear inspiring stories from their own work. The Long Island Volunteer Center is the regional center for volunteerism on Long Island, providing a central hub for individuals and groups to connect directly with nonprofit organizations, raising the profile of volunteerism in the region and increasing the number of new volunteers to meet community issues, while impacting the lives of neighbors in need and enriching the life of the volunteer as well.

How is your organization working with volunteers this year? Describe the activities and events do you have planned.

This is our 30th anniversary year, and we are working toward a celebration event in early fall. We connect with volunteers through networking events, volunteer fairs, street fairs, information provided to local libraries, articles in local papers, social media promotion, website promotion, e-newsletters and speaking engagements.

What resources or tools are you providing to volunteers to help them get involved in their community?

We have lists on our website homepage of volunteer opportunities across Long Island, split out by volunteer category. We have updated the list of youth volunteer opportunities. We are working toward increasing the number of automated volunteer opportunity posts on the website to facilitate search and connectivity. We are also updating our seasonal list of volunteer opportunities high in demand by libraries and high school guidance offices.

What role does volunteerism play in your organization’s overall mission and objectives?

The entire management team is all-volunteer, so each member is absolutely essential to mission and operations. We also have a very active board which participates in hands-on projects and planning around programming.

Share one success story of volunteers in your community who have made a significant impact.

LIVC volunteers Lisa Ziegler and Debra Cattani lead prom boutique logistics and are a well-oiled team that is remarkable to watch in motion. Done with a special blend of tender, loving care, they take thousands of donated gowns and accessories and sort them by size, style and intended purpose (i.e., gown for prom or dressy dress for graduation event), always ensuring quality while thinking about the impact on the intended recipient. They are very organized and manage logistics with incredible attention to detail, competence, professionalism and excellence among all the moving parts.

The Long Island Volunteer Center’s Prom Boutique gown giveaway program, originally created at the Junior League of Long Island and fully coordinated in partnership with the Nassau County Police Department, is now celebrating its 30th year. The NCPD hosts a distribution event at their Center for Training and Intelligence as a “pop-up” boutique which is supplied by the thousands of donations secured through LIVC’s collection efforts for new and gently used prom attire.

Donated gowns and accessories are distributed by invitation only—all girls are confidentially referred by underserved youth agencies, group homes, high school guidance counselors and church outreach leaders—and are provided free of charge to girls of families across Long Island who cannot easily absorb the expense of a new gown for their prom, awards ceremony or graduation. At the project’s apex, pre-COVID, over 5,000 girls benefited from the initiative which included ten additional events coordinated with the United Federal of Teachers. On average, 30 schools/at risk programs make confidential referrals; 383 volunteers participate; 25 groups and businesses donate gowns and/or host dress drives; and 18 locations have served as collection sites. Without this all-volunteer effort, many of these young ladies and young men would not have the opportunity to celebrate their successful completion of high school through the prom experience.

Lisa and Debbie were forced to pivot their mindset around logistics post-COVID and did so with incredible grace, aplomb and keen attention to safety protocols. The 2020 spring event was canceled so the inventory had been stored in anticipation of 2021 programming that would not allow for an in-person event. It was decided to create a hybrid distribution model that entailed online ordering by partner high schools and youth program agencies and fulfillment of those orders with curbside pickup by HS and program coordinators from our storage facility in Nassau County. This innovative approach was successfully employed along with distribution of dressy children’s clothing to youth program agencies.

Accumulating over 200 hours each year, Lisa and Debbie have been regularly assisted by Nicole Ziegler and Kyle Ziegler, and on an as-needed basis by Sandy Viola, Anne Sprotte, Kurt Sprotte, Kevin Sprotte, Pat Moynihan, Pat Force, Paul Salerno, Diana O’Neill and Simone Leo. They both lead by example and richly deserve being highlighted since they would never seek it for themselves. Lisa and Debbie are Volunteer Superstars, bar none.

Can you share any tips or best practices for other organizations looking to recognize volunteers?

Tell your volunteer stories!

What’s one piece of advice you’d give someone who’s looking to get more involved in their community through volunteerism?

Find out where your passion meets purpose and utilize the expertise of a local Points of Light affiliate to connect to community needs.

Points of Light

We are champions of civic engagement with a mission to inspire, equip and mobilize people to take action that changes the world.