Volunteers are Vital: Learn About Volunteer Roles and How They Help at the Nursery

Volunteers at the Nursery help keep our “Island of Safety” functioning in so many ways imaginable to keep our doors open to those who need us most. Volunteers are the reason we are able to say “YES” to more families each day to provide not only just crisis care, but high-quality crisis care to families who need our help.

When someone who is unfamiliar with the Nursery thinks about a volunteer position, he or she may think volunteers only help care for children. Although this is an incredibly essential and important volunteer role, there are several other opportunities. So who exactly are volunteers at the Nursery and what do they do?

During the school year, there are 130 to 140 active, regular volunteers. However with the COVID-1 pandemic, the number of volunteers has decreased to around 40—most of these are long-term volunteers who live in the Champaign-Urbana area.

These 140 or so volunteers serve as:

  • Gardeners: Crisis Nursery has about 20 regular Master Gardeners who typically visit once a week from April through October.
  • Quilters/Crafters: A few volunteers are committed to sewing blankets, quilts, bibs and, essentially, anything the Nursery needs.
  • Handyman: The beloved handyman Mark pops in once a week to check on things and ensures everything is running smoothly.
  • Interns: Each semester, the Nursery hosts interns to assist with play groups, taking care of children and assisting Crisis Support Specialists in the program office. Donovan, Paige, Elisa and Esmeralda were all interns this spring semester, and each are working on special projects remotely.
  • Comfort Dogs: The Nursery has two comfort dogs who visit regularly and provide emotional support for children and staff.
  • Readers: Mother Goose on the Loose visits the nursery every week to read to the children.
  • Board members: The 22 board members meet at least once a month or sometimes more, depending on their committee.
  • Committee Volunteers: Ashley Morgan, Development and Events Coordinator, said volunteers are instrumental to help raise awareness and funds for the Nursery. Community volunteers help secure donations for events and spread the word to encourage their friends, family and colleagues to go.

They also help by sharing new, fun event ideas. Packing baskets, setting up beforehand and helping clean up afterward are all tasks Ashley said volunteers assist with when it comes to hosting special events.

“They make a smooth operation possible!” she said. “We truly wouldn’t be able to have successful events without the help of our special events committee!”

  • Cleaners: A group from the Developmental Services Center comes to the Nursery monthly to sanitize toys.
  • Groups: Different groups such as sororities, work groups, sports teams and service clubs, come in throughout the year to complete special projects. This could be cleaning the building or even painting a room.
  • Child Care Helpers: Of course, the most obvious volunteer roles at the Nursery are assisting with child care.

Marian is the Nursery’s longest-serving volunteer, dedicating her time over the past 14 years.

“She comes in roughly six hours per week, and even more if we need her,” said Safe Children Coordinator, Jill Duden. “She always finds tasks to keep busy and does a wonderful job of showing our new volunteers ‘the ropes.’”

Bill is another long-time volunteer who has dedicated time to the Nursery over the past 7 years. He comes in every Thursday morning around 7 a.m.

“He loves holding the babies and rocking them,” Jill said. “He is a full-time farmer, but takes time each week to give back in this unique way.”

Lauren McCool, one of the Nursery’s Lead Children’s Specialists, said volunteers make safely caring for children possible.

“We use volunteers for a number of things, from childcare to helping prepare meals to making beds,” Lauren said. “Basically anything they can help us out with.”

Lauren knows she can trust volunteers to take care of children while she is working on a project or if the Nursery is very busy.

“An extra set of hands can be a game-changer for us on the floor,” she said.

Lauren said she wouldn’t be able to do her job as well without assistance from volunteers. They are such a crucial part of the Nursery, and we wouldn’t be able to help as many children and families without their help.

Crisis Support Specialist Dana Kelly said for her position, volunteers are especially important because they allow her to have peace of mind during hectic times.

“I can’t always be out there to assist when it’s busy in the office, and I love knowing I can count on them to always be willing to help!” Dana said.

Volunteers help the Lead Children’s Specialists on the floor—a majority of the time, they play with the children, help transition from room-to-room, assist in snack time and clean. Dana said a big role volunteers have is to keep children happy and busy while staff can ensure everything is operating smoothly in the background.

Dana, like all staff members, is beyond grateful for the help of volunteers.

“They have even helped me go through old files and pull information for scanning,” she said. This is something that would have taken three times as long if she was working alone.

Volunteers help the children feel safe by providing love and connections.

“It brings peace of mind to know that our volunteers share the same mission and passions that we do,” Dana said. “At the end of the day, we ALL just want parents and kiddos to feel safe, happy and loved.”

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