Last year, Redwood County volunteers donated over 42,000 hours of labor for good causes throughout the county; it's Karen Christensen's job to match the volunteers with the people needing things done.
When Karen Christensen started as program coordinator for RSVP volunteers 10 years ago, it was a much quieter job.
“I sat in a small room at Wood Dale Nursing Home with a desk, a telephone, no volunteers, and no one asking for volunteers,” she said last week.
Things have changed in a decade. In the past year, Christensen supervised over 400 area volunteers in over 42,000 documented hours of donated time and labor in Redwood County.
How did she get from no one to over 400 volunteers?
“Well, first I had to let people know I was here,” said Christensen. “I went out and talked to anyone who would listen.”
Originally, RSVP’s goal was to help keep senior citizens living in their homes as long as possible. Since the Senior Center already had a volunteer program in place, it was a good place for Christensen to begin.
“The Redwood County Board said RSVP could stay as long as we could find funding,” Christensen said. “Now they contribute funding themselves.”
Christensen currently supervises two programs:
• RSVP, aimed at volunteers aged 55 and up.
• Clearinghouse, for volunteers younger than 55.
(For funding reasons, the volunteer efforts have to be divided by age.)
Currently RSVP has 385 active volunteers on call, while Clearinghouse volunteers has 37.
Together, they served 42,897 hours. Imagine a $10 an hour value for that time, and you get $428,970 in donated hours just throughout Redwood County in a year.
After a couple years at Wood Dale, Christensen moved to a larger donated space at Johnson Park Place.
Having to go out and look for programs who need volunteers is a thing of Christensen’s past, too. Currently, RSVP and Clearinghouse partner with 63 different non-profits, schools, government groups, and churches.
Volunteers found by RSVP and Clearinghouse can be found a the food shelf, the county fair, the Minnesota Inventors Congress, the animal shelter, nursing homes, and many, many other programs and one-time events.
What about events that aren’t sponsored by recognized groups?
“They know we’re a good place to call, and Karen will help them find volunteers,” said Robin Weis, Executive Director of RSVP, based in Slayton. “Karen is a good resource for others in the community.”
Finding volunteers used to occupy most of Christensen’s time. Technology has changed that dramatically.
“I used to spend many, many hours on the phone,” she said. “Today I use group emails and a FaceBook page.
“Recently I needed a volunteer for the Second Harvest food distribution. I put it our FaceBook page, and had four people volunteer within an hour — and I only needed one!”
In addition, Christensen gets many calls inspired by her regular columns in the Redwood Gazette.
What sort of people are reliable volunteers?
“They usually believe in a cause, and want to give back to the community,” Christensen said. “They want to stay involved, and they’re just good people.
“One of the beauties of being in this job 10 years is getting to know the people,” Christensen said. “I know who likes to do what, so when someone wants a volunteer now, I usually can have someone in mind right away.”
Since finding volunteers is so much easier and faster today, Christensen spends much of her time on the road today.
“There are 15 communities in Redwood County, and RSVP is involved in all of them,” Christensen said. Keeping them organized and trained is one of Christensen’s main tasks.
Then it’s back to headquarters to wade through the reams of paperwork required for any non-profit these days.
“We get a volunteer in to help me with my office work. We practice what we preach!” Christensen said.