After more than 40 years of helping those who can help those in need, the Volunteer Center of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff is in a crisis that may cause it to close its doors or drastically refocus its programs as early as July.
Funding is down dramatically from all sources due to the challenging economic environment. United Way, which for decades has been a steadfast supporter of the Volunteer Center, is significantly reducing its allocation as it focuses on crisis intervention and financial stability programs in fiscal year 2010 rather than health & wellness and children & youth issues. To find new sources of funding, the Volunteer Center is mailing personalized letters to 800 residents of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff who have been involved in its programs. The bottom line: "Help!"
"If you believe it's important to have a Volunteer Center in our community, then please give generously," said Nini Lustig, executive director, in an interview with GazeboNews. "We're not looking for volunteers at this point, we're looking for financial support to make up for this significant decrease in funding that will begin impacting our programs July 1."
She pointed out that United Way North Shore remains a believer in the VC's mission even though it has had to reduce funding. Gary Von Glinow, chief professional officer of United Way North Shore, said: "For us, the most unfortunate effect of the recession is that we are not able to financially support our agencies at the levels we would like and have in the past. The Volunteer Center of Lake Forest/Lake Bluff has been a deserving partner of ours for years. This 42-year-old organization provides an invaluable linkage to social service agencies and the residents of our community and surrounding areas."
So just what does the Volunteer Center do…and what is potentially going to be lost if the community does not step in to help with funding at this time? Ms. Lustig said that in the past 12 months the Center has referred 4,000 individuals to social service agencies, schools, food pantries and others that need volunteers. Connecting residents with opportunities to serve has been the Center's mission since it was founded in 1967, but in recent years the Volunteer Center has added a dozen or so of its own programs—many of which are shown in these photos.
Ms. Lustig said the Center's focus on referring volunteers to other agencies has made it difficult for it to maintain a loyal donor base. "The volunteers we refer often end up falling love with the missions of the agencies we referred them to and become lifelong supporters of those missions, not ours," she wrote in a talking points memo. Another challenge is that there is often a disconnect between volunteering and donating money. "People who volunteer feel strongly that they are donating their time and talent in lieu of money," she wrote.
In the fund-raising letter sent to VC volunteers, Ms. Lustig and President Susan Graves pointed out that in the past year, the Center has:
- delivered more than 275 Thanksgiving dinners and 2,000 canned goods to five food pantries in North Chicago, Waukegan and Zion
- assembled and donated more than 500 personal hygiene kits for women of A Safe Place, NICASA, Lake County Haven, Women's Residential Services and PADS (over the past three years)
- delivered 5,800 books to eight elementary schools in North Chicago, Waukegan and Highwood
- made dozens of no-sew blankets for clients of Heartland Hospice and PADS
- wrapped 283 holiday gifts for families in need in Waukegan
- prepared a community garden for Community Social Services in Waukegan
- fulfilled the holiday wishes of 116 individuals through requests that came in from seven different social service agencies
- motivated 180 Lake Forest High School students to volunteer at more than 15 agencies over three non-school attendance days in April (over the past three years)
- honored 36 local women and four high school students for their extraordinary volunteer service (over the past three years)
- taught more than 350 local children and their parents the value of sharing their gifts with seniors in our community through the VC's Little Hands, BIG Hearts program (past six years)
- matched a red pickup truck, upright piano, televisions, office equipment and furniture with agencies that need them
The letter states: "We realize you are being approached by many agencies in similar situations and ask you to ponder this thought: Is it important to you to have a Volunteer Center in your community that provides families in need with basic life necessities through our support of local social service agencies and food pantries; that gives the unemployed outlets for positively re-directing their time and skills; and which offers residents of all agencies a community Volunteer Center where their need to serve can be nourished? If so, then please give what you can."
For more information, visit volunteerlflb.org