The Serve Fresno initiative first came to light after the 2008 financial crisis when the city lacked the financial resources and manpower to improve the quality of life. The city’s solution was to partner with numerous community-based organizations including HandsOn Central California to increase civic engagement and promote volunteerism.
After challenging Fresnans to participate in 1 million combined hours of community service that year, residents came together and not only met that goal but surpassed it for a total of approximately 1.5 million hours during a 12-month period. During tough times, Fresnans step up.
To build on that success, the city, the Central Valley Community Foundation, Every Neighborhood Partnership, HandsOn, Fresno State, the Fresno County Office of Education’s GradNation initiative and other organizations relaunched the campaign at last year’s Hands Across the Valley awards ceremony. Our goal was to achieve 2 million targeted volunteer hours from April 2015 through April 2016.
Our impact areas were identified as environment, education, food and nutrition, and other community priorities such as health, emergencies and animals. Again, Fresno stepped up.
To date, we have achieved 2.06 million hours from 43 agencies throughout the city!
We implemented a service project that mobilized volunteers to build a preschool climbing structure at Stone Soup. We sent volunteers to support PBS’ weekend volunteer initiative, Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. We directed volunteers to provide hot meals and support to residents of the Summerset Village apartment complex that lost heat and hot water for several weeks last winter.
This second initiative was launched because of Mayor Ashley Swearengin’s strong belief in the importance of volunteerism, collaboration and collective impact among Fresno’s community-based organizations.
Some of the community-based organizations that have contributed to the more than 2 million hours of service include American Red Cross Central Valley; California State University, Fresno; Catholic Charities; Diocese of Fresno; Central California SPCA; the Community Food Bank; Valley Children’s Hospital; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and Fresno’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services department.
And, yes, the list goes on: De Young Properties, Every Neighborhood Partnership, Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Fresno Citizens Corps, Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission, Fresno County Office of Education, Fresno Metro Ministry, Fresno Rescue Mission, Grad Nation Action Plan and 5 Promises, HandsOn Central California, Kaiser Permanente, Lowell Neighborhood Association, Poverello House, Reading and Beyond, Ronald McDonald House of the Central Valley, Saint Agnes Medical Center, Stone Soup Fresno, the Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens, The Discovery Center, VA Central California Health Center, Cargill, and Wells Fargo.
Quantifying volunteer support has allowed us to demonstrate how much residents are doing to affect positive change and support our community. We are also able to identify where Fresnans volunteer. These data have helped local leaders determine assets and gaps in volunteering across sectors. We are able to make strategic decisions about mobilizing volunteers and call upon residents to address community crises and priorities. Together we have increased participation in volunteer events and programs.
We know that many volunteer hours go unreported, but we urge everyone to visit the Hands On Central California website to learn more about the process of reporting hours.
And it’s not too late to volunteer and contribute to the growing number of hours. Volunteering is crucial to creating a healthier community. We challenge everyone to get involved, even for just a few hours, because every hour makes a big difference in our community.
If you are interested in volunteering but don’t know where to start, you can visit handsoncentralcal.org to sign up for volunteer opportunities throughout the city of Fresno and region.
Joshua Madfis is executive director of Hands On Central California.