On the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, volunteers at the Bend United Methodist Church came together to make valentines for wounded veterans at the VA Hospital in White City.
"My company gave me and other employees nationwide a half day to volunteer at the nonprofit of our choice today," says Ashley Fowler, who works remotely for Act-On Software.
Martin Luther King Jr. Day not only marks the birthday and accomplishments of the civil rights leader, but it has become significant in the Bend community as a day to give back to the community by volunteering.
Dozens of nonprofit organizations rely solely on volunteers to assist with labor and maintenance projects, ensuring funds raised are spent directly on causes and not on employee staff. Volunteer Connect is a nonprofit in Bend that links people in the community to volunteer opportunities.
Volunteer Connect Executive Director Betsy Warriner founded the nonprofit in 2010 after running the volunteer center at Seattle University. She was looking for a way to connect service-learning courses at OSU Cascades and Central Oregon Community College with the community. "I was involved with that, and I wanted to keep doing that work here, so I got together with some faculty and some community organizations and we decided to start an organization that would promote service learning both for schools and for higher education," she says. From there, "We expanded to become the regional volunteer center."
Volunteering on MLK day not only helps nonprofit organizations, but Warriner says it's also a great way to bond with other members of the community.
"For somebody who is not quite connected with the community and feeling a little bit on the outside of things, volunteering gets you connected, and we feel this is especially important for young people," she says.
Warriner wears many hats and is looking forward to many of the Volunteer Connect projects this year. Bright Side Animal Center in Redmond will be sorting clothing to sell to raise money to care for its animals. "We always love the Camp Fire project, which is a whole bunch of families with very young children who come together and make valentines for veterans."
Another organization that operates without any staff thanks to the generosity of volunteers is Equine Outreach. Sheila Boynton with the nonprofit says volunteers do everything from "mucking stalls to chipping ice out of troughs to getting grants." For MLK Day this past Monday, volunteers worked on cleaning donated tack—riding equipment such as harnesses and saddles. Volunteer groups also sort and clean blankets and paint shelters at other times of the year. "Big projects like that are hard to get done without extra help and are all done by volunteers of all ages," Boynton says.
Habitat for Humanity is always in need of help from the community. Over the last 27 years, Habitat has built 109 houses in Central Oregon, and is nearly finished with house number 110. Volunteers helped with the foundation construction of house 111 on MLK day, according to Robin Cooper, director of development at Habitat for Humanity. "We don't pay for construction labor," explains Cooper. The group works with volunteers in order to keep the homes affordable for low-income families. A volunteer group from Deschutes Brewery assisted Habitat at its Restore location, according to Habitat for Humanity volunteer coordinator Brenda Jackson. "I think it brings our community together and it's a way for people to give back," she says.
Volunteer Connect's website is a resource for anyone searching for volunteer opportunities throughout the year. Warriner says people looking for ways to make a difference in their communities can find the right opportunity by searching for a spark of interest and imagining something that could be changed. "Is there something that bothers you that you wish wouldn't happen?" she asks. "For example, the fact that people lack shelter during this cold winter—you don't have to tackle homelessness on your own; you just join up with an organization that's working on that with other volunteers," she says.
Equine Outreach offers an orientation class for volunteers on the third Saturday of every month at its ranch and a follow up training session for people who decide to help by offering guidance on horses' body language and how to halter and work with them.
Warriner says that one day of volunteering often leads to people wanting to volunteer more regularly. "MLK day becomes a great way for people to learn about an organization," she says. "If you're painting at Neighbor Impact you will learn what Neighbor Impact does and all of the programs that it has," she says. That often leads to wanting to do more, such as helping out with Head Start or the local community garden, or the food program.
Volunteering can be a very rewarding experience. Warriner watched a group of people working with Neighbor Impact painting offices. "People were just smiling and having a really good time and [were] feeling very satisfied with achieving a project. You can look back and say 'well that room looks a lot better than when we started'—so there's that sense of achieving something in one morning and that it is honoring Dr. King."
To discover Volunteer Connect opportunities in the Bend community, visit the website at