Every Tuesday for three hours, volunteers Jarrel, Mark, Mackenzie and Pam perform clerical and administrative tasks at CICOA, such as assembling new client packets or filing, as part of the LINKS volunteer program. On other days, they assist other nonprofits, packing food and hygiene items and distributing them to people in need or performing other tasks. While they’re helping their community, they’re also helping themselves.
“LINKS stands for leadership, independence, neighborly, knowledge and skills,” Mark said.
These core values drive the LINKS program. Serena Fowlkes, the liaison between the volunteers and the organizations they serve, said LINKS volunteers are adults who face a variety of social challenges entering the workforce.
“They’re finding ways to integrate themselves into the community,” Fowlkes said. “We know that for some, that is a difficult task. It’s a struggle at times.”
Volunteers learn critical job skills
Although the working world may be overwhelming to some, the program allows the volunteers to visit hospitals, businesses and other organizations to help prepare them for future work opportunities.
Jarrel Releford, a 29-year-old LINKS volunteer, found a seasonal job at the mall and recently was hired for a year-round position. He said the confidence he found while in the LINKS program is what swayed his employer to hire him full time.
“At first I didn’t know how to handle the register or handle money,” Releford said, “but my peers and coworkers helped me learn.”
Personal goals drive them on this journey
Fowlkes said they’re also learning basic life skills such as time and money management, which helps them in a work environment. Fowlkes wants the volunteers to be able to take care of themselves in social and financial situations.
The volunteers have personal goals, as well. Mackenzie isn’t sure what he ultimately wants to do, but he’d like to have a part-time job. Similarly, Mark previously worked in a kitchen, and he’d like to go back to that setting.
“My goal is to keep pushing as hard as I can to get to the work level,” Pam said. “I want to live on my own.”
The volunteers reside in assisted-living housing with multiple roommates. Like Pam, Releford also would like to live independently.
“I’ll actually be getting my own place in October,” he said. “And I’d like to start my own business.”
With the help of the LINKS program, these volunteers are on the journey to set and accomplish their personal goals by learning basic skills and life lessons.
Volunteering not only helps others in need, but it also can help you achieve your personal goals.