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Helping Neighbors in Need through the Power of Volunteers with Daystar Life Center

By Elizabeth R. Elstien

Daystar Life Center provides social services to those living below the federal poverty level and has done so for over 30 years. Services include such basic needs as food, clothing, hygiene, transportation, telephone and computer use, identification aid and a place to get secure mail. "Our goal," says Executive Director Jane Walker, "is to alleviate suffering and hopelessness experienced by members of the community who are economically or physically challenged."

This non-profit organization serves all residents of Pinellas County, elderly, disabled, the unemployed and underemployed. Florida is a tourist area where many are employed seasonally and get no or few funds when the season ends. Others work two or three jobs and struggle to make ends meet.

Clients are referred from other agencies or learn about Daystar through word of mouth. Walker tells us, "Clients in need come to Daystar in person to request emergency assistance. Once here, they are greeted by volunteers and provided with an overview of the services provided here."

Working with a small staff of five full-time and two-part time employees, Daystar's volunteers perform all basic functions for the organization. The 20-25 volunteers from a pool of about 200 who come in daily are crucial to keeping this nonprofit continually running. "We consider volunteers to be our staff," states Walker. Volunteer reviews tell of how they feel they are giving back and of how positive was their experience at Daystar.

Volunteers opportunities include greeting clients when they come in the door, providing initial assessments or interviews, answering telephones, entering data, helping to write grants, stocking food or clothing pantries, or providing accounting services. Walker says volunteers may also, "Undertake special projects, organize and assist with events, staff community events and serve as a Travelers Aid specialist or a SNAP Registrar."

Fundraisers, an all-important way for nonprofits to raise funds, also rely heavily on volunteers. Walker tells us, "Our [upcoming] fundraisers include a signature event, the With These Hands Breakfast (April 13); and the Drive Away Hunger Golf Scramble (November 12). Aside from these money-generating events to keep the organization open, families, school groups and individuals all help with Holiday Bag Give-Aways before Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The Center's Thrift Shoppe, provides a small revenue stream. Clients are given vouchers to obtain clothing, furniture and household goods as needed at no cost. With its used clothing and household items, The Thrift Shoppe is just one way this nonprofit earns funds to help neighbors in need all year. Most funds come from individual donations. Grantsare another source of income. More than half of Daystar's income comes from in-kind services and donations of food, clothing, furniture, etc.

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