ARCHIVED  April 9, 2010

Giving back by taking time for others

Andrea Koppenhofer is one busy lady, especially in March. She chairs the Masks at MOCA committee of the board of directors for the Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art, the most significant fundraiser for the Old Town museum. Koppenhofer oversees preparations for the exhibit’s opening at the First Friday Gallery Walk in April and then the Gala a month later, the proceeds of which fund nearly a third of the museum’s budget.

“It’s a big job,” she admits. “We’re producing a signature event that a lot of people look forward to. Masks is our most highly attended opening. Last year was the first year the Gala was held in the Museum. Hosting the event in our historic building gives us a chance to show off, but it’s also a lot more to manage.”

All for free.

“We couldn’t exist as the institution we are today without our volunteers,´ said Marianne Lorenz, FCMOCA’s executive director.

The efforts of the museum’s approximately 75 volunteers equal one full time employee.

“It comes out to about $42,000 a year,” Lorenz explained. “We certainly couldn’t produce Masks without our volunteer committee. They put in hundreds of hours: soliciting sponsors, handling marketing and publicity, distributing and collecting the masks and pretty much producing the entire event, including the Gala. It’s a big deal.”

If that weren’t enough, FCMOCA isn’t the only nonprofit that benefits from Koppenhofer’s time. The attorney also volunteers for CASA of Larimer County and chairs the Larimer County Bar Association Pro Bono program.

“I’ve chosen to put my skills and experience towards volunteering because the greater Fort Collins community is our home,” she said. “I believe a community is only as good as the residents’ commitment to it. This community welcomes this spirit and invites volunteerism with many great opportunities. I am enjoying every minute of it.”

Koppenhofer isn’t alone. According to Independent Sector, a leadership forum for charities, foundations and corporate giving programs in the United States, 83.9 million American adults volunteer, representing the equivalent of more than 9 million full-time employees at an annual value of $239 billion, based on the current hourly value of volunteer service of $20.25.

More than 32 percent of Coloradans donate their time, ranking the state 17th in the nation for volunteerism, at an average rate of $20.84 per hour.

Volunteers vital to nonprofits

That means more than money to nonprofits throughout Northern Colorado, whether they are in the arts or provide service to those in need.

Denise Freestone, artistic director and co-founder of OpenStage Theatre & Co. in Fort Collins, calculates the total annual value of volunteer hours to her organization at $490,000.

“If we deduct the stipends we pay cast and crew, it’s closer to $450,000,” she said. “The general public just doesn’t understand the contribution our artists make to OpenStage and to the community as a whole. Our company members give their time and talents out of passion and love for theater. They can’t make a living wage as actors or technicians. There would be no OpenStage if we didn’t have volunteers, and that is true for virtually every arts organization in town.”

Brian Hughes, development and communications coordinator for Envision, Creative Support for People with Developmental Disabilities in Greeley, spends a great portion of his time on increasing the organization’s volunteer base.

“Because our clients are developmentally disabled, our volunteers provide them with companionship and guidance through different partnership opportunities,” he explained. “For instance, we have one client who is very high functioning, but has a hard time picking up on social cues and finds interaction with others difficult. With one of our volunteers at his side, he can more easily do the things he loves: bowling, for instance. He has a hard time with simple transactions like renting bowling shoes. Having another party there helps him navigate through the process.”

Envision saw a 2.5 percent cut in state funding in 2009 and anticipates further cuts that could exceed 4 percent this year. “We may have to dramatically reduce the services to our clients if we don’t find dedicated volunteers. More than ever, they are crucial to Envision,” Hughes said.

Need, response on the rise

Stephanie Gausch, volunteer coordinator for the Weld Food Bank agrees. “Our volunteers are the backbone of the Food Bank,” she said. “Honestly, I just don’t know what we do without them. It’s what allows us to run.”

As unemployment remains high, so does demand for the Food Bank’s services. It distributed over 8.1 million pounds of food in 2009, a 36 percent increase over 2008. The Emergency Food Box program has seen a 44 percent increase over this time last year.

The good news is that the Food Bank has also seen a 15 percent increase in its volunteer roster over the last six months. Gausch attributes this to a greater focus on volunteering in general, and to the unemployed wanting to make meaningful contributions with their time now that money is tight.

Sara Zidon, volunteer coordinator at Alternatives to Violence in Loveland, said she relies on volunteers 24/7 – literally.

“The majority are victim advocates who are on call to respond to crises,” she explained. “They’re there to offer emotional support and advocacy for our clients and to provide information about other agencies when necessary. We also use volunteers for child care and administrative assistance.”

While Alternatives to Violence’s client base is primarily women and children, men also come to the organization as victims of domestic abuse, and Zidon is working hard to build a male volunteer base.

Mike Ramirez is the first to fill that role. A full-time student at Aims Community College and father of two, Ramirez was recruited at a volunteer fair. “They cornered me, and then they wouldn’t let me go,” he joked.

In addition to giving 15 hours a week to Alternatives to Violence, Ramirez is involved with Kairos Prison Ministry, a national faith-based organization that councils inmates on choices and accountability, and drives to the correctional facility in Sterling once a month.

“My plate has always been full, but I think I’ve moved to a platter now,” he said.

Andrea Koppenhofer is one busy lady, especially in March. She chairs the Masks at MOCA committee of the board of directors for the Fort Collins Museum of Contemporary Art, the most significant fundraiser for the Old Town museum. Koppenhofer oversees preparations for the exhibit’s opening at the First Friday Gallery Walk in April and then the Gala a month later, the proceeds of which fund nearly a third of the museum’s budget.

“It’s a big job,” she admits. “We’re producing a signature event that a lot of people look forward to. Masks is our most highly attended opening.…

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