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How to better yourself, your community in 2016
Many local nonprofit agencies need volunteers
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Some make health and fitness goals, while some resolve to help change others’ lives.

For those whose New Year’s resolutions include giving back, there are a number of organizations in Hall County that could use help in 2016.

Jackie Wallace, United Way of Hall County president, encouraged people to get involved with a local charity, group or organization in the new year.

“Figure out, ‘What is it that I care about? What is important to me when I give my time?’” Wallace said. “Because that is a valuable commodity. There are only so many days, weeks and hours that we have, and we should treat it like the gift that it is and spend it doing something that we enjoy and we feel makes a contribution.”

Wallace said anyone looking to do charitable work should follow their interests and passions.

“If you love children, there are plenty of organizations that help children,” Wallace said. “Special Olympics, Boys & Girls Clubs, Challenged Child and Friends. You can be a Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop leader or you can teach Sunday school classes.”

Connie Stephens, executive director of Hall-Dawson Court-Appointed Special Advocates, said CASA “desperately needs volunteers.”

“Our caseloads for abused and neglected children are increasing by leaps and bounds,” Stephens said. “We’ve seen a huge increase. Just in December alone, we had 12 children that were removed from their homes because of abuse and neglect. In November, we had something like 14 kids removed.”

Trained CASA advocates provide a voice for children in the court system and advocate only for the best interest of the child.

The first of two trainings for 2016 begins Feb. 16 and will be 5:30-8:30 p.m. each Tuesday for nine consecutive weeks.

“They will then be sworn in by the judge as a certified child advocate and provide representation for abused and neglected children in court,” Stephens said.

For more information about becoming a child advocate or to get an application, go to www.halldawsoncasa.org.

“Folks can get a lot out of absolutely making a difference in the lives of children by protecting and promoting their best interest in court,” Stephens said.

Wallace suggested another opportunity to help children: mentoring with Center Point.

Center Point is a nonprofit program originally created nearly 50 years ago to offer local students voluntary religions classes. Since then, the center has expanded to offer student mentoring, student and family counseling and substance abuse prevention programs.

A mentor with the nonprofit will be matched with a student from Hall County or Gainesville schools or with a child at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County. Mentors must complete a two-hour training and pass a criminal background check.

The training gives mentors the skills to help students with academic performance, social skills, goal-setting and self-esteem.

But those who feel their skills are not geared toward children have other local opportunities to serve.

Wallace said anyone good with their hands should consider volunteering for Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat volunteers are essential to the organization as they keep construction costs low. All volunteers must complete a waiver form and must be 16 or older. Minors need parent signatures.

To volunteer on a Habitat worksite as an individual or for a group workday, email volunteer@habitathallcounty.org.

There are other hands-on volunteer opportunities in Hall County as well.

“If you love animals, I would recommend contacting the Humane Society,” Wallace said. “If you love nature, there’s always Elachee Nature Center, Chattahoochee Riverkeepers or Shore Sweep. If you want a one-day project, there are a number of ways to do that.”

Julie Edwards, executive director of the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia, said there are opportunities with the nonprofit whether a volunteer wants to work with animals or not.

“What I always tell people is, if you have a skill or talent, we can probably put it to use,” Edwards said. “Certainly, we need people to work with the animals, but we also understand there are people who may have physical limitations and can’t work with animals or may not choose to for other reasons. But we also have administrative volunteer positions available.”

The Humane Society has both year-round needs and seasonal needs. Volunteers are needed for fundraising events throughout the year, while adoption counselors are needed regularly to assist with the pet adoption process.

“There are a lot of different opportunities,” Edwards said. “Even in our surgery suite, we need help washing instruments throughout the day, keeping things clean and doing laundry.”

Finally, anyone who is crunched for time but still interested in volunteering may be a good volunteer for Meals on Wheels of Gainesville.

Volunteers are needed to deliver meals Monday through Friday, and each route takes about an hour or less. Volunteers can commit to deliveries as little as once a month, and open orientation is offered at 2 p.m. every Wednesday at the Community Service Center at 430 Prior St. SE.

Wallace also recommends being clear when contacting an organization to help out.

“That’s probably the best advice I can give to anybody who wants to volunteer,” she said. “Don’t just call an organization and say, ‘I want to volunteer.’ Tell them your skills, what your gifts are, what time you have, if you can do this once a month or two hours a week. Those are the kinds of things that allow them to say, ‘OK, here’s what we’ve got and what we need.’”
Parents can also consider contacting their child’s school about volunteering, and anyone can offer their time through their church, Wallace said.

No organization is going to turn away a volunteer.

“Trust me, any nonprofit organization in Hall County can use help,” Wallace said. “Really and truly, there’s plenty to do. And it really is about finding what you want to do and what you care about.”

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