Published on May 6, 2021 in Volunteer Spotlight
What do you get when you combine National Volunteer Week with Earth Day? The perfect opportunity to give back to our community.
Every April, United Way of Southeastern Michigan works with our corporate and community partners to offer ways for volunteers to make a difference in our community during National Volunteer Week. This year, we did things a little differently, adding a program of mini-grants up to $2,500 each to fund volunteer project supplies for local nonprofit and community organizations.
Kristen Cibulskis, director of engagement for United Way of Southeastern Michigan, said this new approach to community volunteerism came about due to a continued decrease of in-person opportunities.
“There were a lot of volunteer project supplies that we had set aside budget for that never ended up being used,” she said. “We asked ourselves: What if we were able to offer mini-grants for project supplies during National Volunteer Week instead?”
Recipients of these grants included the Belle Isle Conservancy, Greening of Detroit, Micah 6 Community and People for Palmer Park. The projects included cleanup of community spaces, planting trees and prepping gardens — all with an aim of making metro Detroit a cleaner and more beautiful place this spring.
Sigal Hemy, board member for People for Palmer Park, said the grant helped the organization host its annual Earth Day Cleanup at the park on April 24.
People for Palmer Park is a non-profit, community-based organization dedicated to preserving and revitalizing Palmer Park in Detroit. The park sits on 296 acres between 6 Mile and 7 Mile roads and stretches from Woodward Avenue to Pontchartrain. The organization is the official Adopt-a-Park partner with the city of Detroit and the park itself contains the largest remnant forest in Southeastern Michigan.
“Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the park has seen tremendously increased usage,” she said. “It’s amazing to see more people walking the trails, more bicyclists, and many people having community meetings outdoors, including church services.”
But at the same time, she said, the organization has had fewer resources to keep up with the cleanup needs – exacerbated by increased park attendance.
United Way’s mini-grant allowed People for Palmer Park to purchase cleanup supplies, including trash pickers, bags and buckets – something that would have been difficult otherwise, given the cancellation of the group’s major Log Cabin Day fundraiser due to COVID-19 precautions.
As a result, they were able to host around 300 volunteers, who picked up nearly 200 bags of trash, swept up glass and helped “make the park beautiful and usable for everyone.”
“Because we’re an all-volunteer organization, there’s a lot of bang for our buck, here,” Hemy said of the mini-grant. “We need to do the cleanup more than ever due to increased usage of park, so receiving this mini-grant has been really opportune and exciting because it helps us do what we’re supposed to be doing as an organization.”
Alyssa Space, a chemist and founder of ForHerCosmetics, came to the cleanup event with several of her company’s brand ambassadors and social media coordinator to help collect trash from Palmer Park’s parking lot.
“If you want to be a part of a community, giving back is crucial,” she said. “It needs to be more than a one-way relationship, and it’s fulfilling to me to be able to help the city in which I do business. And it’s important to instill that mindset in people; if you expect a community to take care of you, you need to take care of it, too.”
Joy Orf, whose children are enrolled in the nearby Charlotte Mason Community School, volunteered because of the park’s importance to the children at the school.
“We don’t have a play area or a nature space connected to our school, so we see Palmer Park as an invaluable resource to the students from our school and to the community,” she said. “Being able to contribute to cleaning that space was really encouraging for me and my family; I think having access to a space that feels taken care of and cultivated helps increases peoples’ sense of self-worth.”
There are many ways to safely give back through in-person, virtual and DIY opportunities. Find your perfect fit on United Way’s volunteer portal.