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HandsOn Jacksonville Wants to Make 2016 The Year of the Volunteer

By S. Mathur

HandsOn Jacksonville wants to make 2016 The Year of the Volunteer, and with a large network of community projects and volunteers, has the means to make it possible. To be precise, that's 423 community projects, with 5,999 volunteers contributing 20,997 hours of service and creating $484,401 in value for the community, as of 2015. And the number of projects and volunteers is growing.

President & CEO, LeAnn Daddario explains how this works: "HandsOn Jacksonville is Northeast Florida's On-Ramp to volunteering in our community. We work with more than 125 nonprofit agencies that impact many pressing community issues, such as the arts, homelessness, environment, education, and more. There is no limit to the ways volunteers can make a difference. Our nonprofit partners post their volunteer needs on our website, www.handsonjacksonville.org. Volunteers visit the website and can search from an abundance of volunteer opportunities and sign up for them online."

HandsOn Jacksonville was created in 1969 as a central volunteer clearing house to bring together community organizations and those who want to support their work. A number of programs through the year celebrate volunteers and support non-profits. In April, the Celebrate GOOD Volunteer Festival coincides with National Volunteer Week, Florida Volunteer Month and Jacksonville's Volunteer Appreciation Month. The free event in honor of volunteers has live music, guest appearances, food and fun for the entire family. This year's event is being held on April 17, 2016 from 2:00 - 6:00 p.m. at Friendship Fountain. Anyone who volunteers or who is interested in volunteering is invited to come out and enjoy the afternoon. Register for free tickets at www.celebrategood.org.

For non profits, the Blueprint for Leadership is a comprehensive 6-month board training, meeting one day a month from January to June. It covers all aspects of service on a nonprofit board of directors, and ends with a community service project planned and executed by each cohort. A fun fundraiser is the Human Race, a family friendly 5K run is open to any local nonprofit to help them raise money at no risk and no cost to them.

And an eagerly awaited and long-remembered event in underserved schools is A Visit from St. Nicholas. Daddario says that: "On a special day each December, children arrive to their schools to discover the hallways decorated with gold tinsel, and delighted to find a gift of a backpack filled with books and toys on their desks. They are astonished to meet a real life St. Nicholas who visits each classroom giving Kindness Coins - a reminder to treat one another kindly, and volunteers visit to read to the children."

For 2016, volunteers are asked to "sign the pledge" to volunteer a certain number of hours, says Daddario: "In November, 2015 HandsOn Jacksonville launched a campaign to make 2016 The Year of the Volunteer and asking the community to pledge their volunteer hours for the year. We also encourage people to consider things they do in the normal course of their lives that they may have never considered "volunteering" and pledge those hours too. These activities could include things such as coaching your kid's school sports team, serving at your place of worship, serving on a nonprofit board, etc. All of these hours count, so let them be counted! To date, more than 60,000 volunteer hours have been pledged!"

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