Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA, Michelle Blankas, serves at the Community Action Center in Pullman, WA. The Community Action Center is a non-profit organization geared toward providing services to the community that include affordable housing assistance, weatherization and energy assistance, and Community Food such as the food bank, nutrition education, gardening, and Basic Food. The Community Action Center is a member of the Whitman County Food Coalition, of which, several partners make up the volunteer force for the Palouse Tables Project. The volunteer partners include Backyard Harvest, Council on Aging, Washington State University Center for Civic Engagement, and Harvest Against Hunger AmeriCorps VISTA. One of the topics brought up throughout the Palouse Region, in the Palouse Tables Project, is how to engage and maintain volunteers throughout the year. One way to engage is through volunteer appreciation.
The AmeriCorps VISTA organized an Ice Cream and Coffee Social Hour for Volunteer Appreciation Month at the Community Action Center in Pullman.
For the month of October, the VISTA organized ways to appreciate the work that Community Action Center volunteers do. The last event planned for volunteer appreciation was in 2015 and was received with mixed emotions. Many of the long term volunteers did not feel the need to be outwardly appreciated or hold appreciation events at the same time as orientation events. It was about time to do something special for them again but with their added input.
The Volunteer Appreciation Bulletin Board
The VISTA organized October as Volunteer Appreciation Month which included a bulletin in the lobby showcasing some of the volunteers and their reason for volunteering, soliciting donations for volunteer t-shirts and food items such as local pizza. The VISTA also coordinated a Coffee and Ice Cream Social Hour with long-term volunteers where they reflected on their experiences as volunteers and spent time with Community Food workers from the Community Action Center. This allowed for unstructured conversation with a small token of appreciation for all the hard work long-term volunteers do in a way that did not single any one person out.
Short-term volunteers that show up a few times a month were invited to participate in the Volunteer Bulletin Board and to wear Community Action Center Volunteer SWAG. These t-shirts were provided through donations from the community that the VISTA organized. This allowed for the food bank and the Whitman County community to recognize the work of volunteers.
These smaller actions of appreciation are easy to replicate and satisfy volunteers of different backgrounds and age groups in the future. These can be replicated throughout the year or once a year depending on the capacity of the agency and allow for creativity and flexibility.