FLINT — In a “Shark Tank” style national competition, HandsOn Genesee, the volunteer center for Flint and Genesee County, walked away with more than $16,000 after being recognized for its innovative volunteer programming which connects people receiving cash assistance from the State of Michigan to volunteer opportunities.
HandsOn Genesee is a program of Resource Genesee, a Flint-based nonprofit.
The win came at the Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service, held in Atlanta last week. Four volunteer centers affiliated with the HandsOn Network made it to the final round of competition, in which service organizations received a total of $100,000.
JP Morgan Chase provided the financial support for this first-ever HandsOn Network Innovation and Impact Forum, designed to recognize innovative volunteer programs that either utilized skilled volunteers or addressed issues of economic opportunity.
Contenders made a 10-minute pitch before a panel of five judges and an audience of hundreds of people for a chance to win the top prize of $50,000.
The judges included actor Lamman Rucker from Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns; Laura Turner Seydel of Captain Planet Foundation; Taproot Foundation President and CEO Liz Hamburg; and Coxe Curry & Associates Senior Consultant Ann Cramer.
“This was so exciting. A video crew flew into Flint the week before the conference to shoot a two-minute pitch for our program,” said Julia Zaher, director of volunteer services at HandsOn Genesee and Resource Genesee.
“At the conference, I introduced our video to the audience and then took questions from the judges. The audience loved the stories of people we are helping through our new program called Community Service for Success,” Zaher said.
The three-week program helps people receiving cash assistance to overcome personal barriers and connect to volunteer opportunities which can sharpen job skills, increase networking opportunities, and even lead to employment. It is part of the Genesee Shiawassee Michigan Works! program known as PATH (Partnership, Training, Accountability and Hope), funded by the State of Michigan.
“The key to this program is infusing participants with hope and confidence,” Zaher said. “Living in poverty is exhausting.
This is a chance for them to see they have value and can give back while they work on getting on their feet.”
“Community Service for Success has given many PATH recipients hope and direction as they participate in community service as a way of developing the skills they need to obtain employment to sustain their families,” said Craig Coney, Genesee Shiawassee Michigan Works! president.
While the $50,000 top prize went to HandsOn Nashville, HandsOn Genesee will split another $50,000 with the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County (CA) and HandsOn Twin Cities (MN). Zaher said the volunteer center plans to put the funds toward the purchase of a van to transport equipment and supplies for volunteer projects.
“Community Service for Success has helped participants transform their lives through self-discovery and volunteerism. Resource Genesee is proud of the excellence of this program and is honored by the JP Morgan Chase endorsement of the work of HandsOn Genesee,” said Lindsey Younger, president and CEO of Resource Genesee.
In April, HandsOn Genesee was named Volunteer Center of the Year for Michigan by the Michigan Nonprofit Association.
As the local volunteer center, HandsOn Genesee helps connect volunteers to nonprofits through its website, www.HandsOnGenesee.org. It also supports local nonprofits by sharing training and resources and hosts an annual Volunteer Expo to help hundreds of volunteers connect with area charities. In addition, HandsOn Genesee works with the College Town Collaborative to support service projects on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and Make a Difference Day, among other projects.
For five years Resource Genesee and HandsOn Genesee have worked with Genesee Shiawassee Michigan Works! to connect people on cash assistance with volunteer opportunities which can help with employment training and finding jobs.
The volunteer center is supported in part by the Ruth Mott Foundation and by Genesee Shiawassee Michigan Works!
Resource Genesee (www.ResourceGenesee.org) is home to a number of programs including HandsOn Genesee; ReMix Genesee, a program for youth 16-24; Leadership Genesee, an adult leadership program; 2-1-1, a help hotline; and the One Stop Housing Resource Center which provides housing and other assistance. — G.G.