Campaign strives to recruit minority volunteers - Catholic Courier

Campaign strives to recruit minority volunteers

ROCHESTER — At age 93, Olga Edwards proves not only that one is never too old to help others but that a person should never let others’ prejudices affect his or her decisions about assisting people.

“If not treated warmly … don’t back off. Stand your ground,” she said Sept. 30 before a press conference about Volunteers in Living Color, a steering committee comprising representatives from local organizations who lead the effort to encourage minorities to become more actively involved in community service.

Marcia Famolaro, director of volunteer services for AIDS Rochester and cochairwoman of this year’s Volunteers in Living Color steering committee, said the campaign’s intent is twofold. She said that committee members want to increase awareness among the Rochester area’s communities of color about the volunteer opportunities available to them. The group also hopes to raise awareness among local agencies about how to make such opportunities more accessible to everyone, Famolaro added.

“We want to provide information … that’s as welcoming, as culturally sensitive as possible,” she said.

Jean Howard, chief of staff for Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy, applauded the efforts by Volunteers in Living Color, which held a third-annual recruitment fair at Village Gate Oct. 4 featuring several local agencies. According to a 2006 U.S. Department of Labor survey, ethnic groups represent about 17 percent of the volunteer base nationally while Anglos represent about 82 percent.

“The days of selecting volunteers who all look alike, speak alike and come from the same neighborhoods will not sustain a positive future for communities,” Howard noted during the press conference. “Members of black, Latino and Asian-Pacific American communities are very active in volunteering in spontaneous, often informal ways, usually less so with community organizations.”

Edwards, a resident of the Rochester Presbyterian Home, said that volunteers should always be treated with respect, no matter their race or ethnicity. She has mentored children and most recently volunteered at the Susan B. Anthony House. At the nursing home, she helps feed cats whose owners can’t play with or feed them. When she lived in Parma, she also volunteered at the library there following retirement from the Rochester Public Library.

“If given a job, do it well,” said Edwards, who was named one of this year’s Volunteers in Living Color ambassadors. “If people seem not interested, treat them with respect. The result will bring understanding between the races.”

The reality may be that minorities more commonly volunteer in the places where they feel most comfortable, which often is church, said Tracey Welch of Rochester. During the recruitment fair, Welch said she speaks from personal experience as a mentor for children at Shiloh Church of God in Christ in Rush.

“We are helping our communities,” Welch said. “It’s just not publicized. We just do it.”

What more people of color need to do is step outside the comfort zones of their churches or their jobs to help others and reach out to groups in the community as well, she added.

“When we collaborate with others, we all grow stronger together,” Welch noted. “I think it helps us all for ethnic groups to be heard, to get us to the table and share more of who we are with the agencies we serve.”

Welch was one of more than 50 people who attended the recruitment fair, where 17 area agencies had booths that included information and sign-up sheets. The event also featured a diverse range of performances, including singers from Mystic Entertainment and dances from Bharata, an Indian group.

Estella Nelson, volunteer coordinator and recruiter for Catholic Family Center’s aging and adult services’ STAR program, said her agency offers many volunteer opportunities to seniors, some who only speak Spanish. STAR volunteers may help by bringing seniors to their doctors’ appointments or grocery shopping, she said, noting that CFC’s other programs also need more volunteers.

“Lo que sea, necesitamos voluntarios,” Nelson said.

Jennifer Eaton, program coordinator for Literacy Volunteers of Rochester, said her organization is actively seeking to create a more diverse volunteer pool. Currently, 75 percent of its volunteer base is made up of women, 90 percent of who are white, she added. More than 60 percent of the volunteers also live in the suburbs.

“We’re happy when we get our information out to people,” Eaton noted.

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