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Darien-founded website boosts volunteerism

Published 11:51 am, Monday, February 4, 2013

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  • Jarret Liotta / For the Darien News
The inner circle of Volunteer Square, a nonprofit website that links volunteers throughout Fairfield County, include, clockwise from top right, Ned Brokaw, founder; Rachel Reese, executive director; Ceci Maher, executive director of Person-to-Person Inc., and a member of the Volunteer Square advisory board; and Janet King, director of volunteers for Person-to-Person Inc., which has reaped the benefit of working with Volunteer Square. Photo: Contributed
    Jarret Liotta / For the Darien News The inner circle of Volunteer Square, a nonprofit website that links volunteers throughout Fairfield County, include, clockwise from top right, Ned Brokaw, founder; Rachel Reese, executive director; Ceci Maher, executive director of Person-to-Person Inc., and a member of the Volunteer Square advisory board; and Janet King, director of volunteers for Person-to-Person Inc., which has reaped the benefit of working with Volunteer Square. Photo: Contributed

 

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Elements of care and concern now can be woven into the fabric of social networking, at least in Fairfield County. Thanks to the Volunteer Square website, people who want to give their time to help others can not only match their skills where needed, they can join an online community aimed at fostering connections.

"That's the irony," said Ned Brokaw, of Darien, who founded Volunteer Square two years ago. "The technology really isolates you, (but) we can create much more of a sense of community using this technology."

"Volunteering provides a really nice avenue for connecting with people," said Rachel Reese, executive director. She echoed that, while technology moves to isolate people more from one another, "We're using these great technologies that exist, but trying to get people out from behind the technology to connect in really meaningful ways that resonate with their own lives."

It was taking part in volunteer work he found through Volunteer Square -- and consequent connections -- that led Darien resident Gavin Pommernelle to join the group as its newest board member.

"I came across Volunteer Square," said Pommernelle, founder of Talent Driven Value LLC, --¦ and liked that I could choose the way I wanted to get involved. For me, this relates to being able to use my background and skills. For other people, they may want to do something completely different and learn new skills. Whatever the preference, (it) allows one to define what those preferences are and to match with organizations that have those specific needs."

There is no fee to participate in the site, either for volunteers or agencies. People, beginning at age 13, are encouraged to not only create portfolios, but post photos and videos relating to their volunteer work and experiences. Agencies, meanwhile, are encouraged to keep their information current, and may also include special calendar events.

"We're a virtual agency," Reese said. "We try to keep the overhead as low as possible. ... Most of our resources go back into the technology itself."

She said, "We've tried to make it as simple and user-friendly as possible. The site really is designed to be a true community resource, free for everyone to use."

Everyone involved with the group sees volunteering as not only being beneficial to organizations, but to individuals.

"The personal `returns' to the volunteer are just that -- very personal and unique. These can range from feeling good about making a difference, to building a social network and relationships."

"It's good for your mind, and it's good for your spirit," Reese said.

Among the extended activities that Volunteer Square has fostered is its partnering with Person-to-Person Inc. to co-host a Monday night social event.

"It is an opportunity for young professionals to give back to the community on Monday nights in a social environment," said Ceci Maher, executive director of Person-to-Person. "Person-to-Person has used the Volunteer Square website as a key way to inform people of the myriad volunteer opportunities that exist at P2P.

"Volunteer Square offers a volunteer, who may not know how they wish to be involved in volunteering, the chance to look at a wide range of opportunities and then pick the one that most fits with the volunteer's interest," she said.

"We're trying to make it as easy as possible for volunteers to connect," Reese said, with more than 600 currently registered and many others using the site independently.

"My goal is to have 80- to 100,000 people on this site, actively using this site," Brokaw said.

He said that, while dramatic current events might bring out large numbers of volunteers to help in times of crisis, needs always exist for help.

"There are quiet little disasters going on behind the scenes every day," he said, and volunteers are always needed.

For information, visit volunteersquare.com.