Time is (not much) money

Want to volunteer for a charity this year? Break out the checkbook instead

You labor is no good here.
Illustration: Colleen Wang

The good news: even in the midst of one of the worst recessions in the country’s history, Las Vegans are stepping forward and offering to volunteer for the various charities around town. Thousands of them, in fact.

The bad news: Those same Las Vegans are being turned away. Yes, that’s right—you can’t even give your time away nowadays. The sad and simple fact is that most charities are having to eschew the services of good men and women around the Valley in favor of donations. In other words, your labor’s no good here.

Just ask Guy Amato, the president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Las Vegas, which builds homes for those in need. This charity practically lives on volunteers, as they help defray the enormous costs usually involved in building a home. And with a database of 10,000 just in Las Vegas, finding bodies isn’t the problem.

“Last Saturday, we did a project called Women Build, and three weeks before that we put out the word asking for 75 women to volunteer. We closed it out in two hours. We had so many that we did it two weeks in a row,” Amato says. Sometimes the nonprofit has to charge volunteers because of the costs of first aid and refreshments, but it hasn’t hurt turnout, he adds.

This fiscal year, the charity will have built 10 homes in Las Vegas; for next year, they’re hoping to build nine. Future funds are anybody’s guess, and Amato says more and more potential volunteers are being asked to tax their wallets rather than their bodies.

“We have the volunteers to do the work, but we need money,” Amato says. “Donations have dried up. A lot of sponsors either haven’t materialized or have pulled out. We raised $46,000 in January, but that has steadily decreased to $14,000 in April.”

The nonprofit’s store, Restore, at 1401 N. Decatur Blvd., is what’s keeping it afloat right now. The store receives donations of discontinued items from Lowe’s and companies all over the country, and those items are then sold to the community. It accounts for 60 percent of HFH’s overhead, and Amato hopes to open a second store soon. His group also receives money from the Planned Giving program, through which employees of companies can make donations through Wells Fargo.

“I’d tell the community, don’t always worry about funding the program. Fund the operation as well,” Amato says. “What we need right now is money and land.”

Without volunteers, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Nevada would have little need to exist, but CEO Erin Cornelius says finding money is Priority 1 at the moment.

The nonprofit’s most popular program, wherein volunteers pick up children at home and mentor them, is taking the biggest hit, as it costs $545 per child, a combination of background checks, assessments and case management.

“When folks call and volunteer, we let them know we’re putting them on a waiting list, and that until we get matching funds, we probably won’t be able to use them,” Cornelius says. “In any given month, we receive 70-90 volunteer calls, and right now 60-70 percent have to wait. We try to find things for them to do, but most want to work with kids.”

What’s most frustrating is that volunteers are needed more than ever—the caseload has increased from 28 kids in 2005 to more than 300 this year. The charity’s current active volunteer list is 600, and can soar to upward of 1,200, which should give you some idea of how many folks are sitting at home waiting for the call.

Big Brothers Big Sisters’ site-based mentoring program, however, where kids are mentored at 18 area schools, is still going strong, thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Lincy Foundation. “Sometimes when people call to volunteer, we steer them to the site-based program, but some prefer the traditional program,” Cornelius says.

For those unable to volunteer but also unable to contribute monetarily, Cornelius suggests they clean out their closets and bring whatever they can to the nonprofit’s donation center. Thanks to a bulk-purchase contract with Savers stores, Big Brothers Big Sisters gets a bulk of its funding through this operation. “We’re trying to raise $780,000 gross for this fiscal year, and so far we’re very close to that,” Cornelius says. “But to serve this increase in kids, we need an increase in donations. So anything you can bring in would help.”

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Magazine's managing editor, having previously served as associate editor at Las Vegas Weekly, assistant features ...

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