HandsOn Board Votes to Dissolve Organization

BOARDMAN, Ohio -- Citing economic factors and changes in how organizations recruit volunteers for their causes, the HandsOn Volunteer Network of the Valley announced today that’s it’s ceasing operations effective Oct. 1.

“It’s the best thing for everyone involved,” the president of the board, John Cerni, remarked.  

Established in 1984 as a program that recruited volunteers as caregivers to help older adults remain independent in their homes, HandsOn expanded to become a resource that connected volunteers with organizations and worked with nonprofits in the community to strengthen them. 

The closing will idle five full-time employees.

During a news conference this morning at its offices, Cerni expressed his regret for the board’s decision to end the organization. “It’s been a great run,” he reflected. 

“We’ve had a lot of support from the community to support us over the last 30 years and we’ve had some great volunteers,” he said. “Unfortunately, the landscape has changed. The volunteer community is still very vibrant and very active. However the HandsOn Volunteer network has distributed volunteers to the other charities and they have figured out how to do all the functions internally.”  

In particular, the Internet and social media have allowed organizations to reach out directly to individuals interested in volunteering. Also, individuals increasingly are drawn to volunteering for organizations that appeal to their personal interests, such as animals, children or community development, said Maureen Drummond, executive director.  

Because HandsOn lacks programs that directly serve individuals, the agency finds itself “locked out on a lot of funding,” she said. With more than 2,000 nonprofit organizations in the Mahoning Valley, “when you think about competition for donor dollars, competition for grant monies, you can see where an organization that doesn’t provide direct service to individuals may be low on the totem pole as far as being visible in the community and also on donors’ minds,” she said.

“We serve nonprofits, and many of the same nonprofits that we serve are experiencing the same kind of budgetary pinches,” Drummond continued. Over the past few years the agency has placed some 3,000 volunteers annually, she reported. 

Among the funding issues HandsOn Volunteer Network of the Valley is experiencing is the loss of two state grants three years ago, one for $100,000, the other for $400,000. Drummond attributed the loss of the grants to changes in the administration in the governor’s office. 

From the 250 affiliates that joined the national HandsOn Volunteer Network, the number of affiliates nationwide is down by two-thirds over the past five years because of mergers, shutting down, or shutting down and re-emerging as “something different,” she said. Even local organizations having “complementary missions” have undergone mergers recently, she added.

“It’s a choice of: Do you chase the dollars and stray from your mission? Or, do you stay to your mission and serve the community?” she remarked.

HandsOn Volunteer Network of the Valley will fulfill all of its obligations as it works on a transition plan, Cerni said. “We want to thank all of our volunteers and the community for supporting is over the past 30 years,” he said.

PICTURED: Maureen Drummond, executive director of HandsOn Volunteer Network of the Mahoning Valley, and John Cerni, president of its board of directors.

Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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