Berkshire Young Professionals' Nonprofit Showcase: Find a way to lend a hand


PITTSFIELD -- Like walking dogs? Rubbing elbows with CEOs? Getting your hands dirty?
There are dozens and dozens of organizations in the Berkshires looking for people like you. Tonight, you can find many of them in one place -- the Crowne Plaza on West Street -- as the Berkshire Young Professionals of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce presents its second annual Nonprofit Showcase.

"Nonprofits tell us all the time that they have a huge need for volunteers, especially board members," said Darci Hess, Berkshire Chamber's director of marketing and communications. "We've also been hearing at our BYP events that people want to get involved but think there's nothing to get involved in. It was then we realized that they needed a way to find out what is out there."

This year's theme is "Get involved to build a better Berkshires!" Tonight, between 5 and 7:30, people of all ages can stop by this free event to meet representatives from about 50 organizations who could use some time, talent, ideas and leadership. Guests can visit tables and booths on their own time, based on their own interests to learn more about opportunities to get involved in new activities. A cash bar and hors d'oeuvres will be available too.

According to the Corporation for National & Community Service, volunteering helps to solve problems, strengthen communities, improve lives and helps people to feel connected to other people and transform their own lives. According to various studies and publications, volunteering can also help support good mental health and promote physical health and lower blood pressure.

Volunteering isn't a full-time job, but it could lead to one. It's a good excuse to get to know your neighbors, and can empower you to help them. Volunteering can also help you learn new things, tuition-free.

"A single person can really make a difference, especially in the Berkshires because it's such a small community. A few people working on a project can see results in a couple of months, or a year," said Mariclaire Hulbert, 30. Hulbert works as the director of marketing and communication at Jacob's Pillow Dance, but she's volunteers with BYP and serves as chair of the marketing and membership subcommittee.

Last month at Patrick's Pub, she moderated a "BYP Power Hour" panel presentation focused on community involvement. The panelists included: Danielle Gonzalez, assistant director of human resources at Williams College and member of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors; Doug Goudey, president of Wheeler & Taylor and an assessor for the town of Stockbridge; Alex Lenski mentoring coordinator for Railroad Street Youth Project; Gary Levante, community engagement manager at Berkshire Bank, and Jonah Sykes, marketing and communications coordinator for Berkshire United Way and BYP volunteer.

Hulbert said the evening included sharing tips and personal experiences about volunteering and serving on an organization's board.

She said there are three major things to be aware of before signing up as a volunteer or joining a board: The amount of time you're willing to donate toward an organization, event or cause; expectations the organization might have of you; and personal goals of what you hope to get out of your experience as a volunteer.

"You don't want to sign on to something that will overwhelm you or do a disservice to the organization that's relying on your help," Hulbert said.

She said she encourages anyone interested in volunteering to be ready to ask prospective organizations questions and to discipline themselves to managing a schedule.

There are basically three levels of volunteering: one-time events, on-going general volunteering and serving on a board. Each comes with benefits and challenges.

Hulbert herself tends to participate in one-time events, like Read Across America, where she was able to take an hour or so out of her work day to read to students at a local elementary school and help promote literacy.

One-time events are ideal for people who want to test the waters of volunteering or have very limited time to spare. One-time volunteering, however, is less sustainable and helpful for more permanent organizations.

Many groups and agencies are looking for on-going help, someone who can spare a few or many regularly scheduled hours a week working to help support the organization's mission and needs. Levante, 27, said that from his role interacting and coordinating volunteer opportunities with other agencies, getting young people involved in this kind of volunteering is "one of the biggest challenges in the Berkshires." He has a few theories as to why.

"I think a part of it is student loan debt. I know of a lot of people who are graduating only to work a full-time job and a part-time job," he said, meaning young people don't have the time to spare.

He and Hulbert also noted that some boards require a financial commitment of donating at an executive level to an organization, anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars a year.

"I also think some people don't have the confidence or think they have the skills to help," said Levante. "But we all have different experiences in life. We all have something we can contribute."

More so than perhaps ever, today's culture is also trending towards the expectation that everyone can and will find something they're willing to pitch in with.

"When you find something you're passionate about [contributing] doesn't feel like a burden," Hulbert said.

In the Berkshires and around the globe, organizations and entrepreneurs have found great success with people donating dollars to support their campaigns and causes. Levante also noted the trend in running road races for a cause as both a means of keeping fit and giving back.

Though Levante said his interest and passion in community service was sparked while he was a student at Saint MicShael's College, he's seen a shift in corporate culture towards engaging employees in community service. Last week, he attended a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Investing Summit in New York City during which business leaders discussed how community engagement, charitable giving and volunteering can not only create more productive workers, but promote better business.

"My job didn't exist at Berkshire Bank five years ago. This field didn't really exist 10 years ago," he said.

For whatever the passion or purpose, Levante said people, especially young adults, should educate themselves about what volunteer needs there are in the community.

"It's an opportunity for young professionals here. It can help you develop those leadership skills and can help you develop your voice in the Berkshires," he said.


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