The Sustainability Question

Lyndsey Bohall (center) and Alexandra Ellison, VISTA (left), speak with Kristin Pickard, Volunteer Coordinator for Northern Nevada Hopes (right), about the nonprofit's volunteer needs. Northern Nevada Hopes is Northern Nevada's premier center for HIV/AIDS treatment and care.

How do you keep a volunteer initiative going once it gets off the ground? That is the major question facing Lyndsey Bohall, our Reno 2011 Summer Associate VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) for the Nevada Volunteers higher education initiative this summer.

Lyndsey is just beginning her sophomore year at the University of Nevada, Reno, and she already has a solid head on her shoulders as well as a tech-savvy perspective on this sustainability question. As part of the Honors Service Council and the UNR Alternative Break Club, she has become familiar with the challenges of connecting college students to service opportunities. Collecting current, in-depth information on who needs help is crucial to matching students to appropriate nonprofits according to areas of interest and skill level.

“One of the problems we have to overcome is that nonprofits may not always hear back from the potential student volunteer after the initial contact,” Lyndsey explained. “With more information available to them, the college students will know what they are getting into up front and will be more likely to follow through.”

She began her summer by surveying area nonprofits to enhance an information database geared to connecting college students with nonprofit volunteer needs. Maintaining a database can be energy intensive, so Lyndsey has been looking at technology to streamline the process. Working with a skill-based volunteer, she is helping to develop an Access-based web form and database that can easily update nonprofit volunteer needs on a periodic basis—a key to sustaining up-to-date information in an easy way.

Lyndsey sees enormous potential for the database she is working so hard to create. “We want to make the database available for counselors and advisors, so it will be easier for them to guide students who are interested in volunteering,” she said. “And faculty members can use the database to quickly find organizations that they can work with to bring service-learning into a class curriculum.”

Lyndsey is part of a VISTA team that has been working over the span of several years to develop the link between the campus and the community through the Honors Program office at UNR. “But we need to find a way for it to continue beyond the VISTAs,” she said. They are looking for grants for a student-run center or other possible ways to permanently house and maintain the resources that are being developed. Whatever solution they find, Lyndsey’s Summer Associate project will be integral to making it work.

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