Bernie Beaudreau is executive director of Serve Rhode Island, a Providence nonprofit founded in 1994 to administer the federal AmeriCorps programs here and that serves as the state’s volunteer center and commission for national and community service.
The organization, among other things, partners with other nonprofits to support volunteer recruitment, placement, and management efforts.
Over the past few weeks, part of the organization’s focus has been on cleanup and recovery efforts from Hurricane Sandy organization volunteers to help clean the homes of residents and businesses and cleaning up storm debris.
PBN: How have residents responded to your calls for disaster cleanup assistance in the wake of Hurricane Sandy?
BEAUDREAU: Rhode Island and nearby Connecticut and Massachusetts residents have been overwhelmingly responsive. A record number of 854 volunteers have served 1,058 volunteer days [104 volunteers served two or more days] in the 12 days of cleanup organized by Serve Rhode Island, the Misquamicut Business Association and the Greater Westerly Pawcatuck Chamber of Commerce.
PBN: What more needs to be done and where is the priority?
BEAUDREAU: There is a tremendous amount of building repair, rebuilding and sand removal still to be done for the businesses along Misquamicut’s Atlantic Avenue. There is also a major deposit of debris that was carried by the storm surge from Atlantic Avenue across Winnepaug Pond along a half-mile strip on the north shore of the pond, an area difficult to access by road. Plans are underway to design service project days that will aid in the rebuilding and the environmental cleanup that still needs to be done. Many more volunteers will be needed for this work. We are also working the R.I. Department of Labor, FEMA, RIEMA, and the town of Westerly to create an employment program to aid in the longer-term recovery of Misquamicut and other areas throughout the state.
PBN: What is your overall sense of the spirit of volunteerism in Rhode Island?
BEAUDREAU: In times of well-reported natural disasters such as [Hurricane] Sandy people naturally want to help. There is tremendous spirit, but volunteers need to know where to go, what to bring with them, and some expectation about the work they’ll be doing. The news media provided steady coverage of Sandy and its aftermath…and the results have been amazing... For normal times when there is no news coverage of a dramatic natural disaster, the need for volunteers is no less urgent. The spirit for volunteering in our struggling public schools, in community agencies, or to restore our environment needs to be stronger than it has been in recent years. We need many more volunteers involved with day to day community needs. Rhode Island ranks only 38th in the country for volunteering.
PBN: Can you identify the economic sectors that need the greatest amount of volunteer attention?
BEAUDREAU: Our recent State Service Plan of nearly 700 nonprofits, businesses and volunteers indicated that improving public education and hunger and poverty are the most critical issue areas. Volunteers are needed in much greater numbers for helping with our most challenged public elementary and middle schools and community agencies attending the needs of Rhode Island’s families and individuals living in poverty, who are in constant need of volunteer assistance.
PBN: What is the number one need nonprofits come to you with?
BEAUDREAU: Nonprofits need a constant flow of funding from both government and philanthropic sources on a year to year basis, and they need funding incentives to encourage collaborative work among agencies with common missions. Part of this resource mix is the steady flow of volunteers to perform essential functions and Serve Rhode Island is working to improve the supply of human resources through innovative ideas like the creation of internships where there’s a balance between the work skills and experience an unemployed volunteer can gain and the service the non-profit employer will receive. Non-profits also need to build capacity to create meaningful volunteer roles and manage the work of volunteers to contribute to their core work.