Columbus Gives Back celebrates 10 years of service with a special event Monday evening. The nonprofit uses its own network of nearly 800 volunteers to help other groups in the region.
Juliana Hardymon grew up in Centerville, OH. She volunteered throughout her school years. But after college, she found it hard to find opportunities fitting the young professional stage of life. All that changed ten years ago.
"I moved to Columbus and made a New Year's resolution that I would start volunteering again," Hardymon recalled. "I also wanted to meet new people along the way. I thought a group was really needed in Columbus that allowed for volunteer opportunities that were flexible and also incorporated what I call a social twist. So we volunteered for a few hours, then went out to get drinks or food or coffee or something after the event to get to know each other better."
They made dinner for a local organization, and Columbus Gives Back grew from there. Just last year, the group created, led, or volunteered at nearly 400 events.
"I like to say we take the hard parts out of volunteering and leave the people with the easy parts, which is just signing up and showing up."
That's Caleb Miller, the recently-elected board president of Columbus Gives Back who's volunteered with the organization since 2016.
"We work with nonprofits all over the region and determine what they need help with on two or three hours of a given day," Miller said. "We create an event on their behalf, recruit volunteers out of our own network, and make a social event of it afterward. We usually say whatever you need help with, we can supply volunteers. We help in food kitchens, assembling furniture at the furniture bank, work directly with people or in the background. It's really up to the non-profit as to what they need, and we'll step in and help get it done."
On this Saturday, there are plenty of events. Diana Lolli and Gina Loewengart are volunteering at the Kaleidoscope Youth Center, which serves and supports LGBTQ youth and young adults ages 12 - 20. On today's agenda, the tasks include cleaning and organizing.
"Events can pull your heartstrings in different ways," Lolli said. "We helped at Star House, a homeless drop-in center for youth. We helped them with their own cookout. These are young adults, and we're there to just talk to them like a friend. But I also love the ones where we're behind the scenes. Cleaning a closet doesn't seem like a lot, but it's inspiring to be a part of a group and see other people light up. That pulls on my heart a lot."
"The hook for me was pretty similar," Loewengart said. "I did want opportunities to socialize more outside of a work environment. It's only about 2 to 4 hours of a time commitment, and you can choose when you want to sign up. We have times all throughout the week. If I volunteer somewhere and wasn't thrilled about the experience, I can move on to another organization that Columbus Gives Back is affiliated with."
At another event the same day, Columbus Gives Back volunteers are working with Habitat for Humanity MidOhio on a home rebuilding project.
"I'm Aaron, this is my 5th outing with them, I just wanted to start giving back doing things for other people besides myself. Developing a community and working to grow that togetherness, to be the change you want to see."
Though she left the group after a few years, Columbus Give Back founder Juliana Hardymon says she's impressed by how far it's grown. The lessons learned from all the experiences remain.
"The sense of connection with my fellow volunteers and the individuals and organizations that I served," Hardymon reflected. "I was able to feel that I could help my community beyond what I'm doing in my 9-5 job. Leaving with that sense of self-efficacy really shaped my life ever since. It shaped my career and how I am as a person. I have a daughter now, and it shaped how I parent her. It's just an invaluable feeling that volunteering has provided for me."
Moving forward, the group's current leader and volunteers say they want to be the voice of volunteering in Columbus, perhaps expanding to include events for families and the elderly. They believe volunteering is something every demographic wants to do. Columbus Gives Back celebrates ten years of service Monday night at Endeavor Brewing. More information about the event and the group can be found at columbusgivesback.org