Rolling Out Role Models

Rolling Out Role Models

County program looks at tapping 20-somethings as possible volunteers.

After buying a house in Arlington, Melissa and Sean Bailey wanted to get involved in their new community. They wanted to volunteer, but weren’t sure where to find the right opportunities.

“We’re both involved in national community service organizations,” said 25-year-old Melissa Bailey. She works with the Make-a-Wish organization, and Sean, also 25, coaches T.O.P. soccer. “But we wanted to do something locally,” she said.

“We’re trying to get a little more involved,” said Sean Bailey.

The Baileys are the target audience for the Community Role Models program organized by the county’s Volunteer Office to attract young, working adults who might be interested in volunteering, with a special focus on finding volunteers for youth services, environmental and community development programs.

On Wednesday, May 26, county staffers and current volunteers gathered with 100 young adults at Whitlow’s on Wilson to celebrate the kickoff of Community Role Models, and to attract young volunteers to the program.

The central idea of Community Role Models is “to get people in their 20s and 30s involved … a lot of them may not be involved in civic life, and may not know how,” said Sara Girovasi-Marron, a member of the Community Role Models task force organizing the program.

She was surrounded by prospective volunteers, some wearing shorts and t-shirts, others dressed in business casual, still others wearing suits. They were eyeing a buffet of chips, salsa and avocado-spinach dip, but the discussion centered on what they could do in the community.

Finding younger volunteers can help local programs, she said, and the targets of those programs. But the process can also let young adults know that they play a role in the community, said Girovasi-Marron, especially since they are a significant segment of Arlington’s population. According to the 2000 census, 33.9 percent of Arlington’s population were 20-34 years old. “This is a way to let people know they are wanted,” said Girovasi-Marron.

<b>AT THE SAME</b> time that the county kicked off the Community Role Models program, the county’s Volunteer Office announced it has revised its online lists of programs looking for volunteers. “We didn’t have a means for people to get on the Net and find opportunities,” said Greg Castano, volunteer program assistant.

Now, opportunities are compiled in an online database, allowing prospective volunteers to look for programs that need help based on the time of day they are available, the time they have to volunteer, or to search by program or by keywords.

In addition, the volunteer office is funneling listings to the Community Role Models program, focusing on organizations that need volunteers on weeknights and weekends, and especially organizations that work with children and young adults, the environment or community development. Young adults said in surveys they were most interested in volunteering in these types of programs. “Most people wanted something social, and to give back to the community,” said Castano.

New ways to socialize weren’t the main motivation for coming Wednesday, Sean Bailey said, but it could be a recruiting tool for county programs. “We’ve got lots of friends. We tried to bring them out tonight.”

For Steve Dickson, 31, volunteerism would be welcome. But the software developer would be more inclined to volunteer if he can find the right program. “I wouldn’t say I’m actively looking to volunteer,” said Dickson. “But if something strikes me, I’m happy to.”

That’s the niche that the volunteer office is trying to fill with its new system, Castano said. Online listings will make it easier for young volunteers to find the right opportunity.

Later this year, the Volunteer Office will continue to coordinate with Community Role Models, holding Learning Forums on opportunities to volunteer, what kind of commitment each program requires, what kind of training is provided and what is expected, and what a typical volunteer will do.

<b>REACHING 20-SOMETHINGS</b> was a central theme in the Jan. 1 speeches by two County Board members. “Arlington’s young working adults are a huge resource we must tap,” said Board Chair Barbara Favola (D).

As part of a strategy to create a Civic Engagement Institute in the county, she said, the county must look to 20- or 30-year-olds who can bring new talents and energy to county programs. “Expanding our volunteer outreach efforts to connect young adults with opportunities to mentor a youth, or clean up a stream, or participate in some other activity will make our community stronger.”

Board member Walter Tejada (D) echoed Favola’s emphasis on finding young volunteers, and named the program premiering last week as the main way to do it.

“This county-wide program will tap into the one-third of Arlington’s population who may not otherwise be engaged in our civic life,” Tejada said in January, “and seek to connect this valuable resource with youngsters who could benefit from a caring adult in their lives.”

Tejada worked with staffers and young working adults to form the Community Role Models task force and plan for the program, and he came to the kickoff event last week. “The day is finally here!” Tejada said.

As he campaigned for County Board last year, and worked with the task force, Tejada said he heard common complaints from Arlington 20-somethings. “How do I find something? How do I know how to get involved?”

Now, Tejada said he will have an answer: Community Role Models. “Help mentor a child. Help clean up a stream. Or help build a home. … Become the next wave of community activists.”