Unemployed people are volunteering more - East Valley Tribune: News

Unemployed people are volunteering more

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Posted: Saturday, April 25, 2009 3:44 pm | Updated: 2:37 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Brad Kempf, 47, went from being assistant vice president of development to joining the burgeoning list of laid-off workers in March.

The Gilbert resident, who once helped plan and build Arizona Mills Mall in 1997, now visits career Web sites, scouring them for jobs, and attends classes and seminars “to get up to speed on technology.”

Still, it isn’t enough for someone who until recently packed in 12-hour workdays.

“When you’re laid off and sitting at home, going through jobing.com and monster.com for hours, you just get frustrated,” Kempf said. But one thing he started in January while still working for retail developer Westcor has helped in more ways than one: volunteering.

Kempf, who lives a mile away from the United Food Bank in Mesa, continues to give some of his time to help out with tasks such as food distribution and preparing items.

“It keeps me busy, it gives me a sense of purpose and I feel great about doing something useful,” Kempf said.

He’s not alone.

As the economy ends jobs across industries, several East Valley nonprofits report an increased number of volunteer applications from those who’ve recently lost their jobs and would rather spend their new-found spare time helping the community than spending stressful afternoons on the computer or on the couch.

“Our application numbers are definitely up,” says Jo Ellen McNamara, executive director at the West Mesa Community Development Corp., a Mesa nonprofit that regularly uses volunteers for community projects.

And McNamara is grateful.

“It’s great that even in their time of hardship, people are looking to help the community, to use that time to help their neighborhoods,” she said.

Claudia Walters, project coordinator at Mesa United Way, another nonprofit, says new help is welcomes, especially with the increased need social service agencies have amid fewer resources and budget cuts.

Help comes in the form of people like Mesa resident Christian Karas, 43, a former project manager for a commercial contractor, who volunteers twice a week at United Food Bank.

Karas also has experience volunteering for Valley of the Sun United Way.

“I try to use my construction and project management background to help someone refurbish a home. I also look for things of interest to me, like helping homeless people,” Karas said.

Online resources such as volunteermatch.org can also help those looking for an appropriate agency by connecting them based on their areas of interest and skills with agencies that need the same.

Kempf says he’s glad he can use his number-crunching skills — thanks to a degree in accounting — when he helps the food bank issue receipts for contributions.

Besides filling a personal void, the time spent can also be a great networking tool, said Martha Hughes, director of volunteer resources at Banner Desert Medical Center and Banner Children’s Hospital.

“Future employers like to see you’re doing something for your community, plus you never know who you’re going to meet who may help you find a job,” Hughes said.

Hughes reports having the largest number of pending applications in her 15 years at the hospital — from an average of 30 in the past to 281 earlier this week. For an organization that needs double its 400 volunteers, this is a big plus.

“It’s phenomenal for us right now,” she said.

The healthcare industry interests 51-year-old Claudio Ieronimo of Chandler, who was a field service engineer for Applied Materials, a nanomanufacturing technology company.

After working closely with Intel, and logging many official trips to Santa Clara, Calif., and Albuquerque, N.M., he wound up taking a voluntary severance package as a fallout of the economy. Ieronimo’s been in the job market since February.

Ieronimo applied to volunteer at Banner Desert because he appreciates their work, he said, and because of his interest in the field. He has an associate’s degree in biomedical engineering technology. Now he hopes to brush up on his skills and get a toehold in the industry. But networking isn’t the only reason. Ieronimo says he always meant to volunteer and now he has time on his hands.

“I’m very fortunate to at least be able to do this. I hope one day people do the same thing for me,” he said.

Ironically, Donna Rodgers, director of resource development for United Food Bank, says they’re finding themselves having to turn away volunteers when they don’t have enough work to give.

“That kills us because we feel these people will get discouraged and not return. So we try to have them hold food drives,” Rodgers said.

Volunteer coordinators do realize that some people may not return once they find a job.

“People tell us they’re also looking for work. We understand that, of course,” Rodgers said.

But as Hughes said , “hopefully this generation will get a taste of giving back.”

Karas is clearly hooked.

“Now I see the necessity even more, and I’ll continue to pitch in, good times or bad.”

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