Volunteers

Spreading the mission, fueling success

Program leaders share insight into how to motivate volunteers, and how to find the right role for their skills

  • Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank
    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank
    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank
    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank
    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank
    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank
    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank
    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank
    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Skiers Jake and Jennifer Vezina of Greenfield prepared for a run down a trail at Crotched Mountain ski area, accompanied by, from left, CMARS Program Assistant Jeff Burnett of Mont Vernon and volunteers Mick Brown of Dublin and Dan Fotter of Francestown. The CMARS program relies on more than 50 volunteers who share their love of winter sports with disabled participants.<br/>Courtesy Photo

    Skiers Jake and Jennifer Vezina of Greenfield prepared for a run down a trail at Crotched Mountain ski area, accompanied by, from left, CMARS Program Assistant Jeff Burnett of Mont Vernon and volunteers Mick Brown of Dublin and Dan Fotter of Francestown. The CMARS program relies on more than 50 volunteers who share their love of winter sports with disabled participants.
    Courtesy Photo

  • Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank<br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Skiers Jake and Jennifer Vezina of Greenfield prepared for a run down a trail at Crotched Mountain ski area, accompanied by, from left, CMARS Program Assistant Jeff Burnett of Mont Vernon and volunteers Mick Brown of Dublin and Dan Fotter of Francestown. The CMARS program relies on more than 50 volunteers who share their love of winter sports with disabled participants.<br/>Courtesy Photo

“I’m brave about asking people for things.”

That’s the secret for Jim Orr when it comes to running a successful volunteer program.

Orr, 76, is a Peterborough resident and former chair of the N.H. Governor’s Commission on Volunteerism who has been active in volunteer activities since he came to Peterborough in 1978. Now retired, he worked for Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield after a long career with Wang Laboratories in Lowell. Orr has been a volunteer for more than 24 years at the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, where he frequently leads trail maintenance crews. And his latest project is organizing a community wood bank, located in a large storage shed behind the River Center on Concord Street in Peterborough, to provide free firewood for those who need help heating their homes in winter.

“It’s a really drafty building, which is great for a wood shed,” Orr says. “We just started gathering in May last year, and we’ve harvested a lot of red maple and red oak. Some of it had been taken down by a logger who only wanted the softwood for lumber. The hardwood was left behind. We just had to ask.”

Engagement is key

Margaret Nelson, executive director of the River Center, says her organization has about 200 volunteers working on numerous programs throughout the year. The River Center is participating in a High Impact Volunteer Engagement program being run by the N.H. Charitable Foundation that is looking at how to use volunteers more efficiently.

“The challenge is how to engage people of different generations,” Nelson says. “ You have the traditionalists, the older people who lived through World War II. They want to come in for a couple hours a week, to do whatever’s needed. But you also have the baby boomers who lived through the Vietnam era, a smaller group of Gen-Xer’s now in their mid 30s or early 40s, and the millenials, the children of the baby boomers. If I have a 30-something, I have to give them different things to do than a traditionalist. Maybe they’ll want to work on a Facebook page from home, when it fits their schedule.”

Tyler Ward saw the difference between the generations immediately when he joined the Peterborough Heritage Commission. Although he’s 45, Ward says he definitely represented the younger generation to the commission’s other members.

“I was swarmed,” he says. “I was asked about doing Facebook. That’s not what I can do well.”

Ward says he had become curious earlier this year about why three old houses that had been sitting vacant for years on Grove Street had been demolished. His questions led him to talk to Heritage Commission members, who asked him to join them.

“I just had to get involved,” Ward says. “I’ve lived here three years and I didn’t even know the Heritage Commission existed until I heard about the houses. I love old buildings.”

It’s when people like Ward become passionate about something that they become effective volunteers.

“You really have to have a very specific project,” Nelson says. “People do volunteer work for many reasons, but they want it to be personally satisfying.”

Kristin Harris of Hancock runs the Crotched Mountain Accessible Recreation and Sports program, a mouthful that’s abbreviated to CMARS. The program gives people with disabilities opportunities to ski, snowboard, kayak or hike by matching them with volunteers who are experienced in those outdoor activities.

“Our volunteers are people who love the sport,” Harris says. “They are passionate about it and want to help others explore something that they just love.”

CMARS is a program of the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center, but only about a third of the participants are residents of the center. The others live throughout the community and are often brought to the program by family members. The adaptive skiing and snowboarding program, which has the most participants, takes place at the Crotched Mountain ski area.

“I have 50 or 60 volunteers,” Harris says. “A few are parents of participants, but most of them are just people who want to share their interest in the sport.”

Dan Fotter of Francestown has been a CMARS skiing instructor for six years.

“I take away more than I’m giving,” he says. “Both the other volunteers and the students are fantastic. I always wonder at the end of a day who has the biggest smile — me or the person I’m working with. It just feels really good. That’s what keeps me here.”

At the woodbank, Orr has developed a list of about 40 people who are willing to help. Many of his volunteers are older people — “We have all this time available after retirement,” Orr says — but he also finds many working people are able and willing to spend time on the wood bank. And it’s crucial, he says, to match the right person with the right job.

“It’s a matter of learning what people want to do,” says Orr. “Some people can wield a chain saw. Some can run a splitter. Some people have a truck and can simply deliver wood for us. Kids can come and stack and get community service credit for school. By word of mouth, people have discovered what we’re doing. I had a bunch of Keene State students come to help at a site in Spofford.”

The shed behind the River Center holds about 40 cords of firewood, although it’s never been full. This winter, Orr and his crew gave away about 12 cords, he says, to people referred to them through the River Center’s federal fuel assistance program.

Widening the net

Orr says that in order to keep volunteers coming back, it’s important that they have fun and realize how much they are appreciated.

“You have to give them a sense of how valuable they are. That makes the job more memorable,” he says.

Orr was especially pleased this winter when he got a call from a man who had received wood through the program.

“He said, ‘You know, I still have your card. Can I come over and do some work for you?’ That’s how it happens. Making connections and liking people makes it all work.”

Harris says her volunteers are her best recruiters.

“When we’re out on the slopes, we’re very visible. We wear our CMARS jackets. People see us and ask what we’re doing. So our volunteers will bring in others. They say, ‘I’m having a great time. Come check this out with me.’”

For the snow sports program, volunteers get a free ski pass at Crotched Mountain for the day. Other than that, there aren’t a lot of perks.

“We work hard to ensure that people are successful and enjoy the experience,” Harris says. “We always put new volunteers with a seasoned instructor, so they have a mentor. They have to have a reasonable level of skill anyway, and we provide a lot of training, especially for the snow sports. We do clinics on disability awareness, equipment, techniques for giving a lesson.”

Harris says CMARS is starting an adaptive bicycling program and is always on the lookout for more volunteers. She could offer the snow sports program to more people if she had more volunteers, especially on weekdays and urges anyone interested to contact her at cmars@crotchedmountain.org.

Nelson says she hopes the High Impact Volunteer Engagement program will help the River Center develop techniques to ensure continuity of programs.

“We need to develop a structure so current volunteers will mentor new volunteers,” she says. “If you don’t have new people coming in, it puts you in a vulnerable place.”

And like Harris and Orr, she aims to make sure her volunteers enjoy what they are doing.

“My biggest challenge is trying to make sure volunteers have a good experience, to keep them engaged with their project and the center as a whole,” she says. “We don’t want to lose them in the shuffle.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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