In honor of National Volunteer Week, HOTC will be highlighting people doing amazing things around volunteerism! Today’s guest post comes from someone who is doing just that. Karen Lutgen is co-founder of a “Volunteer League” that celebrates friendship, service and community. She shared her story with us to pass along to you!
Our crowd is a typical group of thirty-something friends. A core group of high school buddies expanded to include college roommates and significant others. We adopted the nickname “Second Family.” Due to the responsibilities of careers and biological families, we don’t see each other as often as we ‘d like. We used to form teams for volleyball or softball leagues. Next was something called “Picnic League” where we would meet at a park on a lazy weekend to eat and play bocce. That league even warranted tshirts. All of these attempts to stay together took a new form in 2010. I’m proud to say we now we have “Volunteer League.” (VL)
The idea came after a group of us volunteered at Feed My Starving Children. I had learned about this amazing organization and invited Second Family to come work for an evening. We had a great time being together and helping a worthy cause so we got ourselves organized to do more.
The premise is simple. At the beginning of each calendar year, each person/couple/family claims one or two months to organize a volunteer event for the group. We are then on our own to find and coordinate the activity for our assigned months. Every month or so, an email will come from someone with the details of an activity and everyone RSVPs. Group sizes vary depending on schedules and the nature of the event. We’re blessed with two people who have served as our benevolent overseers and cheerleaders. They make sure each month is claimed, send reminders, and log our events so we can look back at the end of the year at what we’ve done and be inspired to do it again. April 2013 is our 40th month.
One of the strengths of this model is that we take turns organizing. It helps keep everyone invested. Everyone understands the work that goes into finding an activity for the group so we are more willing to make VL a priority. Plus, different people have different causes that are close to their heart. As a result we’ve helped a wide range of organizations including Second Harvest Heartland, Bridging, Special Olympics, and Meals on Wheels. We made fleece blankets for Children’s Hospital, pet toys for the Humane Society, and sandwiches to be dispersed to the homeless. One of our favorite outings was planting potatoes and later harvesting them for food shelves.
One challenge we’ve encountered is finding kid-friendly activities so we can include the growing number of children in the group. Parents usually take turns attending the things that are not kid-friendly. When we do have an event we can all attend – like playing bingo at a nursing home – those of us with children cherish the opportunity to teach our kids what it means to help those in need.
One of my favorite parts of VL is that we are independent from any other community organization. Churches do a great job of organizing community outreach and thankfully more and more companies give their employees work-time to volunteer, but we are something unique. We are a group of friends who see value in giving back and decided to do it regularly and intentionally. My previous volunteering had always been through church. Only a handful of people in our group attend a church or associate with a religion but we all find value in helping those in need and giving back to our communities.
It has been very satisfying to see VL be a success and grow over the years. As we invite more and more people to participate in the events, we’ve strengthened relationships not only within our original “Second Family,” but also with our extended families, other friend groups, and work colleagues.
I’d love to hear about other people doing the same thing and I hope someone might hear our story and decide to start their own League. There is much to gain in the giving.
Anyone can start a Volunteer League of their own! For more information about volunteer opportunities for friends, families and other groups, check the opportunities at www.handsontwincities.org. And don’t forget to tell us about the great work you’re doing!