How helping hands learn the ropes: a look at nonprofit volunteers
The work often requires training
March 24, 2017
Roxanne Kerr had trouble holding her tears back on her way home.
She was returning from her weekly volunteer job at the National Ability Center, a nonprofit offering athletic programs to people of all abilities.
Kerr, who helps with the center's equestrian therapy program, cried out of happiness because she just watched a little girl light up after horseback riding for the first time.
"The center was a new place for her," Kerr said. "She was upset. She didn't want to be away from her parents. I was thinking this isn't going to work, but our instructors are amazing. They got her on the horse, and the minute we started walking, her whole personality changed. She started laughing and smiling and making the sign for more."
“I’d never heard of an organization doing that. I thought, ‘let’s see if I like it.’”
— Lindsay Sugg, Nuzzles & Co. Volunteer
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While Kerr goes to the National Ability Center each week to help people who face physical and mental challenges overcome limitations, Biruta Aigars Strausser helps out at Recycle Utah because she doesn't want to see the world turn into a landfill. Lindsay Sugg, on the other hand, spends two hours in the car once, sometimes twice, a week to get to Nuzzle & Co.'s rescue ranch so she can fend for animals who don't have the pleasure of speaking for themselves.
There are many reasons why people take time from their busy schedules to volunteer at one or more of Park City's 85-plus nonprofits.
Volunteering, however, isn't as simple as walking into an organization's building and immediately getting to work. Many of the town's nonprofits require prospective volunteers to attend orientations and undergo extensive training.
Recycle Utah trains on an individual basis, while Nuzzles & Co. has an assortment of programs in which involvement requirements are different.
While the Hope Alliance — a nonprofit that brings vision, dental and medical care to people in Peru, Guatemala and other impoverished areas — wants its volunteers to attend orientations before traveling abroad, the National Ability Center asks helpers to shadow its programs' instructors or assistants.
Learning new abilities
Lauren Willie, volunteer coordinator for the National Ability Center, said volunteers are the backbone of the center. She added it's important people such as Kerr have the proper knowledge needed to work with those who participate in the nonprofit's recreational activities.
From learning the appropriate language to use to knowing how to work the center's equipment, volunteers have a lot to pick up before they can officially get to work.
"Within all our programs we have both instructors and assistants," Willie said. "We can have volunteers for both, but there are two different trainings within all our programs."
Assistants in training learn from current assistants, while prospective instructors pick up their skills from other instructors.
"After an initial training in which rules and goals are laid out, we schedule them to shadow a lesson," Willie said.
While assistants and instructors are needed at the center, administrative helpers and those willing to clean stalls or mop floors are always appreciated.
Kerr not only helps the center's students, she also spends quite a bit of time cleaning up after its four-legged creatures. She was grooming horse Bjorn, a Norwegian Fjord with a calm temperament, when she talked to The Park Record .
"We'll bring in the horse and groom him," Kerr said shortly after brushing Bjorn. "We'll start with cleaning the hooves — We have two different brushes we use. Then we tack them up. Typically, if the student is able, the student will help us with all those steps as well."
The call of the wild
Like Kerr, Sugg also works with animals. She, however, drives to Nuzzles & Co. rescue ranch in Peoa.
Sugg wanted to volunteer at Nuzzles & Co. after she read a feature article in People magazine on the nonprofit's trips to Native American reservations in Utah.
"They had done a story on them going to the reservation and finding the dogs and bringing them back here to the ranch," Sugg said as she leaned over to pet a cat named Grandpa Owen. "I'd never heard of an organization doing that. I thought, 'let's see if I like it.'"
Sugg, who said working with animals is her calling, has done almost all of Nuzzles & Co.'s volunteer jobs. She has been to its adoption center at the Tanger Outlets in Kimball Junction to walk dogs. She has helped wash dishes and scoop cat litter. She even fostered a few rescue pets.
"When I first started, I was helping with events," Sugg said, adding she's gone through training to be part of Nuzzles & Co.'s cat socialization and canine training programs.
Cat socialization and canine training have specific orientations, and fostering a pet requires communication with one or more of the organization's employees. Before anyone is able to socialize cats or train dogs, they have to visit the Nuzzles & Co. website or call 435-649-5441.
"We make sure there is a process," Nuzzles & Co. Volunteer Coordinator Jode Page said. "It begins by going to the website and clicking on the volunteer tab and filling out a form."
Page also said the adoption center has a drop-in volunteer opportunity.
If you have 20 minutes on your lunch or if you just got done skiing, dog walking is something you can do," she said. "You can go in, sign a waiver and watch a little video."
Saving planet Earth
Sugg volunteers because she feels pets depend on humans to survive. Strausser and Ellen Sherk feel the same way about Earth.
They spend time at Recycle Utah, a drop-off recycling center, because the planet is unable to tell people what it needs.
Strausser said earth definitely can't handle the tons of trash humans throw away each day.
"Some of the things, like plastic bags, take thousands of years or a long period of time before they decompose," Strausser said.
Molly Brooks, Recycle Utah's volunteer coordinator, said she shows volunteers the ropes before they get started.
"The volunteers that come here on a daily basis do all sorts of different tasks at the center," Brooks said. "It kind of depends on the day with what we need help with. It can be things like showing people that come to the recycling center where certain items go."
Strausser, who usually answers visitors' and callers' questions, said she still feels she needs training, as she comes to Brooks with questions all the time.
"I help people understand what can and cannot be recycled," Strausser said. "Let's face it. I'm periodically running out and asking: Can this be or can this not be recycled?"
Sherk said she has learned a lot from other volunteers. As she took apart a VHS tape so she could recycle most of its materials, Sherk explained that another taught her the task.
"The top part of the tape is acrylic, which we try to keep separate from our other plastic," Sherk said. "I will use a putty knife and take that off, then little plastic pieces come off."
A new vision for volunteer work
The Hope Alliance is another nonprofit that has a variety of volunteer jobs. People can help as vision program volunteers who clean, sort, organize and read prescription glasses. They can also be expedition volunteers or special event volunteers.
"[An expedition volunteer is] a volunteer that works with The Hope Alliance leaders to provide our programs to areas of the world with extreme poverty," Volunteer Coordinator Alex Bostrom said, adding volunteers have different training depending on the programs they want to join.
"Each volunteer goes through a different training depending on which position they would like," she said. "Our expedition volunteers have two mandatory trainings in The Hope Alliance office that teaches every aspect of our clinics, as well as training on equipment and materials we use. We also recommend international volunteers to attend a local clinic before they depart on their expedition."
Its local volunteers get to go through a one-on-one training with Bostrom, who shows them how to use the machines and equipment that organize eyeglasses and other health-care tools.
"It usually takes a few shifts to fully understand and use our equipment," she said.
Taking work home
Whether they're driving home with tears of joy or teaching friends recycling skills they've learned, Park City's nonprofit helpers admit their passion for volunteering travels with them.
Strausser set up a recycling hub at her condo complex. Sugg fostered a litter of kittens, and Kerr tells almost everyone she meets about the National Ability Center.
"Every experience at the center is amazing to me," Kerr said. "I walk away feeling I've gotten back more than I've given."
Please contact Lauren Willie at 435-649-3991, ext. 625 for information on the National Ability Center's volunteer opportunities. To learn more about Nuzzles & Co., reach out to Jode Page at Jode@nuzzlesandco.org. Recycle Utah Volunteer Coordinator Molly Brooks can be contacted at 435-649-9698, and Alex Bostrum, with The Hope Alliance, can emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.