Open House Connects Ferndalians to Volunteer Opportunities
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Sept. 24, 2015)
“Volunteering helps people be part of something bigger than themselves. Twenty years ago we all didn’t have these little boxes, these cell phones and computers, that made us feel connected, so people got involved in things. Now it’s harder to find volunteers. But it is a great opportunity,” said Sommer Realy as she worked at the Downtown Development Authority table at the recent Ferndale Volunteer Open House.
As an employee at the DDA Realy helps coordinate volunteers and manage events like Fido Does Ferndale, the Funky Ferndale Art Fair and Art of the Cocktail. The events are a chance for residents and visitors to celebrate and bring customers to the Downtown shops and restaurants.
“Downtown Ferndale is what it is because of volunteers,” she said. “We work hard but at the end of the day, it’s such a feeling of accomplishment. And you’re doing it with other people so you’re part of something bigger than yourself. It’s great knowing that you’re helping small businesses in your community be successful.”
The DDA and the Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce collaborated on the Open House, which featured about a dozen groups in Ferndale, or that serve Ferndale. The event gave the groups the chance to network with each other and with residents looking to get involved. The event ties in with the Chamber’s new Volunteering portal on their website, found at http://www.ferndaleareachamber.com/volunteer.html.
“We have quite a few members that are nonprofits either in Ferndale or who do things in Ferndale, so just like our job postings for business members we want to help nonprofit members attract the volunteers they need,” said Ashleigh Laabs of the Chamber. “There has not been an event like this [Open House] in Ferndale in years and I think it is a good time for it. Hopefully we can grow the momentum and do this once or twice a year,” she said.
Janelle Rogers is a volunteer with the Friends of the Ferndale Library, a group that raises funds to supplement programming at the library. She is the proprietor of Green Light Go Publicity where she specializes in the music industry. She also uses her skills for the Friends group. “I am good at creating order out of chaos,” Rogers said. “I love to learn and I think education is important. Volunteering started with a love for books. I think the Library is a building block of a community, so I want to support that.”
The Friends of the Ferndale Library helps bring in musical performers to the rock the community space, shunning the idea that a library must be quiet all the time. The group also helps fund the “Lucky Day Collection” where much sought-after new releases are stocked up so they are more likely to be available to patrons. They’ve purchased items specifically to help children learn and connect, and many other projects big and small over the years.
“I used to the membership chair, but then someone came along that wanted to that so I moved to the social media chair. People can get involved with whatever skills they have, and it’s flexible,” Rogers said.
Other groups looking for volunteers included Habitat for Humanity, Ferndale Youth Assistance, Michigan AIDS Coalition, Easter Seals Michigan, Renaissance Vineyard Church, Ferndale Recreation, Ferndale Rotary and Relay for Life Ferndale.
Even the City of Ferndale was there, with representatives from the City Clerk’s office hoping to recruit people to work the polls on Election Day. There is a stipend for the work so in addition to helping serve democracy, participants can get a little change in their pockets.
According to City Clerk Marne McGrath, a citizen task force of about 15 people has been meeting to brainstorm ways to improve the voting process. The City will be redistricting after the 2015 elections, so not only is the group looking at ways to make the lines flow more smoothly, they’ll be figuring out the best locations for the next set of precincts. For the upcoming election, which is November 3, 2015, precinct workers (called Election Inspectors) will have options for half day shifts and may be able to pick the task they do for the day.
“We want to do all we can to make voting a positive experience for people, and to make it better for our inspectors,” she said. “It’s a long day, so hopefully breaking it up and giving people more of a choice will make it easier. We are always looking for more people.”
Oftentimes people may overlook volunteering at certain organizations because they presume they are not qualified to help, but most nonprofits have things for people to do whether they have special skills or not.
Kate Baker of FernCare gets that response at times. “People think you have to be a doctor or have medical experience to volunteer, but that’s not true,” she said. “We do welcome medical professionals of course, but there is a lot of work for the rest of us!” FernCare, a free health clinic for uninsured people, is constantly fundraising. Volunteers help with fundraising events, social media, publicity, welcoming patients at the front desk and for those who want to be completely behind the scenes there is data entry work to be done.
Even people who love animals have opportunities to get involved. Emily Tuchek is volunteer with Camp Casey, an organization that brightens the day of kids with cancer by surprising them with a horse at their house and a party for them and their friends. For Tucheck the experience is a perfect fit. “I am going into equine assisted psychotherapy,” she said. “It’s talk therapy for people but paired with horses.” But even for someone not in a horse-related field there are fun opportunities. “We need people to come help the kids with painting, or with food, or with making the snack for the horse,” she said. “You don’t need to be experienced with horses at all.”
In addition to gaining experience for her profession, Tucheck gets something much less tangible, but much more valuable – perspective.
“The other day I went on a Horsey House Call for this nine year old girl who is battling leukemia for the third time. It is sad but it also makes you feel so good to see the smiles on the kid’s faces and how happy they are. They get to be kids and not think about being sick. How can you let little things in life bother you when you do stuff like this? It just really puts life into perspective and helps you appreciate what you have.”
If any of the organizations sounds interesting, click on their names below to check out their websites:
Habitat for Humanity of Oakland County
FernCare Free Clinic
Michigan AIDS Coalition
Easter Seals Michigan
Ferndale Youth Assistance
Renaissance Vineyard Church
Ferndale Area District Library
Relay for Life of Ferndale
Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce
City of Ferndale
Open House Connects Ferndalians to Volunteer Opportunities