If the vacant stare of a shivering homeless person, the soulful eyes of a shelter animal or the sober face of a hungry child tug at your heart, but the time to volunteer eludes you, ACC faculty members Dr. Josie Mills and Diana Hornick can help assuage your guilt at just not having enough hours in your day.
Together Hornick and Mills created ViTaL (Volunteering To Learn) a new group on campus for the civic minded. Hornick and Mills decided on the name ViTaL when they were looking for a word to resonate with people and be relevant to the group’s goals.
Mills pointed out, “Volunteering is vital to life and vital to the community.”
ViTaL does the research to identify volunteer needs close to campus, contacts prospective agencies, inquires as to individual volunteers needed, arranges dates and times, and all that is left for the volunteer is to sign up and show up. It is painless for the individual volunteer because the only time it takes is the time spent actually volunteering.
It is no easy task to coordinate volunteer’s schedules and develop relationships with the Littleton community to find places for ViTaL to volunteer. Despite the added work, Mills feel it is important to forge relationships in advance and to identify an organization’s needs so the volunteers are not a burden, but provide a needed service.
Hornick and Mills did their research, first by identifying volunteer opportunities in the immediate area of ACC. They called each organization to inquire about training, the number of volunteers they could handle and what hours were most useful to them.
The initial research culminated in ViTaL’s first foray in the community at the beginning of the semester with the animal shelter. Five faculty members met and spent a pleasant afternoon helping out in any way needed. The added bonus was that they got to play with the kittens.
After the success of ViTaL’s first event, Mills and Hornick are working to find times most convenient to the ACC community and interested organizations. ViTaL’s goal remains to involve as much of the ACC community as possible. However, some organizations are forced to restrict the number of volunteers at one time due to space and personnel issues. Thus signing up early to participate with ViTaL is vital.
The original idea was to volunteer during teacher in-service days or the week before school when students might be free and the teachers could devote at least a portion of one of the days to volunteer work.
Hornick, Mills and ACC have a history of volunteer work and service to the community.
Mills said, “The school has a goal of inclusion and focusing on diversity and inclusion.” She feels volunteering is one way to promote this goal because it takes the volunteer out of their comfort zone and exposes them to different types of people and unfamiliar situations.
With community service in mind, the school sponsored a program to foster children who are recent graduates by providing essentials for an apartment to start an independent life.
Besides participating in ACC events, Mills volunteers at the school for the blind, where she helps with resumes skills and career concerns. Prior to working at ACC, Mills volunteered with the Food Bank of the Rockies, which she found very rewarding because of the immediate difference it made in people’s lives.
Hornick, also no stranger to volunteering, has spent time feeding animals at the wildlife sanctuary, helping out at Furry Scurry and Lucky Mutt Strut and being a primate keeper at the Gibbon Conservation Center. She is not only interested in volunteering her time but encourages others, as well.
Her communication classes are centered around community service, and students are required to volunteer during the semester. Her students can choose any volunteer opportunity and create a short presentation on the experience at the end of the semester. She is creating a new generation of volunteers one class at a time.
Hornick said, “I have been volunteering since I was a kid…and I guess I always will.”
ViTal has not scheduled another “adventure” at this point, but Mills hope to involve as much of the ACC community as possible in volunteering at the Denver Convention Center during the Project Connect.
Project Connect is part of then-Mayor John Hickenlooper’s “Road Home,” a ten-year plan to end homelessness in Denver. The event is held yearly at the Convention center and representatives from homeless advocacy groups, including every shelter, are present.
DU students act as hosts and escort the homeless from station to station to be sure each individual visits every group. The stations include dental care, medical treatment, clothing, haircuts, housing service, resume help, job searches and many more opportunities to receive key services.
Mills plans to act as an escort this year and hopes to encourage many ACC students to join her in some capacity.
ViTaL will be sending out notices when this event and others are scheduled throughout the year, and the Pinnacle will also post dates and times of upcoming opportunities.
Mills summed up the benefit of any volunteer experience, “Once you do one [event], you get hooked and want to do more.”