Volunteers of America (VOA), which began in 1896, is one of the oldest nonprofit organizations in the United States. It’s also one of the ten largest social service agencies, with 40 affiliate headquarters in 46 states. Thanks to its history and size, Volunteers of America makes an extensive impact in each of the communities where it operates, including VOA Portland, OR, an affiliate that opened its doors 122 years ago.
About Volunteers of America Oregon
Within a year of VOA’s start, posts opened across the country including Volunteers of America Oregon. Since then, it has grown to employ approximately 340 people and serves 19,000 Oregon residents annually. It does so through over 30 programs in 16 different locations, and with the help and hard work of 575 volunteers. With an affiliate organization of this size and scope, there are virtually countless opportunities for partnerships and volunteer events.
VOA Oregon's Mission
VOA Oregon is based on the foundation of their national parent organization’s mission: “To change lives by promoting self-determination, building strong communities, and standing for social justice.” VOA Oregon continues to do that, but with a focus on the communities in their area. According to Camille McDaniel, Volunteer Services Manager at VOA Oregon: “If you go to a VOA affiliate in another location, they might have different programs than we do because we try to find needs specific to each community and fill those gaps.”
And while some of the most popular VOA programs across the nation are child-family support and re-entry from prison, Camille shares that VOA Oregon offers additional programs that were created specifically to meet the needs of people in the area.
Programs Unique to VOA Oregon
VOA Oregon offers residential centers for men and women who are recovering from addiction or on probation/parole. Camille and others who volunteer in these residential centers have seen firsthand the impact their programs have on Portland-area residents struggling with addiction. “They really are rebuilding their lives from the ground up,” she explains.
“During an alumni party at one of the centers, they did a sobriety countdown,” says Camille. “They started with the person with the most sobriety in the room, which was 26 years, and they went all the way down to one day. By the time they were done, they had over 1,200 years of sobriety on the stage.” To put that in context, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, up to 90% of alcoholics will have at least one relapse during the first four years after they get sober.
In addition to their residential centers, VOA Oregon also offers outpatient programs for recovery, as well as prison and drug court diversion.
One of VOA Oregon’s most unique programs is its Adult Day Services. Essentially, these are daily elder care centers that were built as a response to a community need. While caregivers go to work or take a much-needed break, individuals — most of whom have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia — spend the day at either the Lambert House, the Marie Smith Center, or the Sundance Center. “They are the most fun places,” Camille says. “There’s just a real warmth there.”
Similar to most VOA affiliates, VOA Oregon also provides many children and family programs, some of which overlap with each other. This includes a collaborative effort between programs like Family Recovery Support, Addiction Recovery, and more. There are two Family Relief Nurseries, designed for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old. While in the nurseries, parents get help with their parenting skills and other resources to heal a family in crisis.
Domestic violence prevention within the Home Free Program is also another success for the Oregon affiliate. In this program, the mission is “to provide long-term, post-crisis support designed to prevent victims from having to return to an abusive home.”
Making More Impact with Donors & Volunteers
Even with VOA Oregon’s massive impact in Portland and the greater State of Oregon, being a nonprofit comes with its share of struggles. For this particular VOA affiliate — as for most nonprofits — their struggle comes down to visibility with donors and volunteers.
With so many programs and the support of so many people, it’s hard to believe that visibility is an issue for VOA Oregon. And it’s not… at least in the communities where they do the most work. The affiliate has effectively “tuned into the needs of the community,” Camille explains. This is great for the people and families getting help. In reality, though, the difficulty for VOA Oregon comes down to attracting new donors and volunteers. “What we do is so far-reaching that sometimes I think it’s hard to speak succinctly about our mission. Getting our message out… that affects the sort of volunteers and donors we attract.”
Finding — and retaining — enough volunteers is another relatable struggle that VOA Oregon faces. While they have over 575 volunteers, many of them are college interns who are not available all year-round. “We can use about 700 volunteers a year,” Camille says. “We use them throughout the year across many programs. But I think one of the things that will be challenging is that our volunteer needs are usually during the business day. There are companies that allow flex schedules and VTO, however.” That’s why VOA Oregon is looking forward to partnering with businesses and NobleHour in the new NobleBridge initiative.
Partnerships with Businesses for Community Benefit
Portland, where VOA Oregon is headquartered, is known for a lot of things: hipsters, wine, Mount Hood, etc., but it also has a thriving volunteerism culture. “They’re big on volunteers. I think that people in Portland are pretty aware,” Camille says. “But I do think that there are always people who don’t understand the impact they could be having. There is always an opportunity to tap people on the shoulder and let them know what’s available.” That’s why she and her team at VOA Oregon are hoping to partner with more businesses.
“One of the things I find really exciting is that businesses [in Portland] want to encourage volunteerism and they want to participate in their communities,” Camille explains. “But when you go to look for volunteer opportunities, it is overwhelming.” So the question for businesses becomes: How can we find a nonprofit organization that aligns with our values and makes it easy to volunteer?
When nonprofits and businesses connect over these similar struggles, everyone wins. It also stands to solve a problem that nonprofits like VOA Oregon face every day. “We really benefit from partnering with businesses because it’s an untapped resource,” shares Camille. And there are so many different forms of corporate volunteerism: organizations where employee donations get matched, companies that pay employees for volunteer hours, businesses that match the value of volunteer hours (dollars for doing), etc. This means there are even more opportunities for nonprofits, businesses, and their employees to work together.
Partnering with businesses in the Portland area “[is] another great opportunity to get visibility for our services and messages,” adds Camille. Involving more employee volunteers in VOA Oregon’s community programs can only lead to more awareness and engagement–and it’s good for everyone. “Volunteering can be an expanding experience,” Camille says.
Hopes for the NobleBridge Program
The NobleBridge program, which is designed to bring together businesses and nonprofits in Portland, is perfect for organizations like VOA Oregon. Camille, who is overseeing the NobleBridge connection for her affiliate, says: “I really hope the NobleBridge program will help with visibility for our services.” She and her fellow VOA staff also hope to attract new volunteers from the businesses who partner with NobleBridge. But most of all, the VOA affiliate is hoping to connect with people who are committed to creating a stronger community and supportive environment for those in need.
When asked if she could name one thing she wished people knew about VOA Oregon, Camille shares: “I wish that they knew about the tremendous work we do and how effectively we do it. We seem to be Portland’s best-kept secret.” The work that VOA Oregon is doing is extensive and admirable. NobleHour believes nonprofits doing such amazing work should get the support they need, so we are letting the secret out!
Are you ready to join the movement and mobilize your volunteers? Connect with the NobleBridge Community today.
NobleBridge is a volunteer initiative started by TreeTop Commons, LLC. It’s designed to pair businesses with nonprofits and charities. It’s goal is to create a strong volunteer culture in Portland and make it easier for people to find volunteer opportunities. NobleBridge hopes to make Portland the #1 corporate volunteer city in the United States. We want to help businesses create and foster a culture of volunteerism with their employees.
Since 2007, NobleHour has proven to be the volunteer management solution for organizations across the nation. With its robust online platform, NobleHour enhances community engagement with a variety of innovative and transformative tools for finding, tracking, and measuring volunteer initiatives. With offices in Lakeland, FL, and Portland, OR, the NobleHour team is dedicated to empowering good in communities across the country.
By NobleHour Special Contributor:
Latasha Doyle is a writer and long term care volunteer living outside of Denver, Colorado. When she’s not writing or volunteering, she enjoys crocheting, Netflix marathons, and planning her next trip.