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Nonprofits: VISTA team starts work with county organizations

By Roger Greene
Coastal Observer

Though the task before them is formidable, the four AmeriCorps VISTA members assigned to Georgetown County relish their roles in creating volunteer management systems for area nonprofits.

The four have been on the job for roughly a week, the focus during their initial days at their respective agencies being about establishing the foundation for their work over the next year. Constructing an efficient and effective management system is much more far reaching than simply putting together a database of names and numbers. The critical portion is matching volunteer skills with specific agency needs, a nationwide issue for nonprofits.

Sandra Tomlinson is one of two local VISTA members along with Anne Jones-Marion, a graduate of Waccamaw High School. Tomlinson, a Belle Isle resident, is well-versed in the needs of area nonprofits having worked with Miss Ruby’s Kids, Habitat for Humanity and Guardian ad Litem, and knows first hand the challenges posed by developing a way to match volunteer skills to agency needs.

“Being able to match a volunteer’s experience to an agency’s needs will be a critical part of what we do,” Tomlinson said. “Right now, an agency can make 25 calls and not find a person who is a good fit for a particular need. Being able to collect background data and putting it in a form where it can be easily retrieved will hopefully help solve that problem.”

Though Tomlinson is a retired college professor, Jones-Marion and fellow members Courtney Dunsmore, a native of Kalamazoo, Mich. and Simponsville’s Gwendolyn Smith have all recently completed their college degrees. Regardless of any differences in their backgrounds, the four do share one important trait: the personal conviction necessary to support AmeriCorps’ mission of combatting poverty.

“One of the biggest regrets I have is that I did not join the Peace Corps,” said Tomlinson, who taught at West Virginia University and Indiana State. “This is a good opportunity for me to be involved in addressing some of the needs that exist in Georgetown County. It’s important work.”

“I did an internship with the Girl Scouts Council while I was in college and worked with volunteer management,” said Smith, who earned a B.A. in English from Converse College. “I discovered there were a lot of people that were interested in volunteering. But they had no idea of how to get started or what they needed to do.”

While Jones-Marion and Tomlinson will have the comfort of being at home over the next year, Dunsmore and Smith will be sharing a condo at True Blue. VISTA members are paid only a small stipend for their services and cannot have another job during their time with the program. However, each member is quick to point out that their personal bottom lines are not what their service is about.

“This program is for those who have a desire to help others,” said Dunsmore, who earned a B.S. in Psychology from Western Michigan. “If money is your concern, it’s not for you.”

“I grew up here,” said Jones-Marion, who earned a degree in English from Clemson. “As you get older, you become more and more aware of the problems that exist. I wanted to be able to give something back.”

Jim Dumm, the director of Tara Hall Home for Boys, understands that sentiment. A Pennsylvania native, Dumm originally came to Georgetown County with VISTA.

“If it weren’t for the VISTA program, I probably would have never been in South Carolina,” Dumm said. “I majored in political science in college and was thinking about going to law school. But when I began working in the area, and saw the benefits [gained from] an effort like the VISTA program, I knew law school wasn’t for me. I found a home and discovered what I wanted to do. I’m glad things turned out the way they did.”

Jones-Marion will work with Dumm at Tara Hall and with the YMCA. Tomlinson is at the United Way office and Dunsmore will work with Teach My People and Georgetown County Parks and Recreation. Smith is assigned to Miss Ruby’s Kids, the Salvation Army and Helping Hands of Georgetown.

While the VISTA project will span three years, Tomlinson, Jones-Marion, Dunsmore and Smith will serve at their respective agencies for only one year.

“We don’t have really have much time,” Smith said. “You have to be able to delegate tasks and prepare someone else to finish the work you are starting.

“As a group, I think we will work well together. I like the fact that we have local members and those from other areas. Anne and Dr. Tomlinson know Georgetown County, and Courtney and I will be able to bring in a perspective from the outside.”

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