Mesa Volunteer Program Adds Value

January 23, 2012
by Cyndy Liedtke Hogan

Throughout the City of Mesa, Ariz., volunteers help improve the lives of citizens. In addition to the tangible and intangible benefits of helping neighbors, rehabilitating a home or working with the fire department, volunteer hours in Mesa provided more than $5 million in service to the community in 2011.

Helping Hands Building a Better Mesa, as the volunteer program is called on the city's website, cuts across several city agencies. The volunteers are recruited and supervised by city employees. 

"A large part of what makes the City of Mesa's volunteer programs so successful is our community's willingness to answer our calls for action by rolling up their sleeves and donating their time," said Michelle Alvis, volunteer coordinator-neighborhood outreach for the City of Mesa. "Mesa residents serve as an excellent example of what can be accomplished when we come together with a common vision of strengthening our community."

In 2011, citizens of Mesa volunteered a total of 236,045 hours, according to Sheila Byrne, senior human resources analyst for the city. Using the Independent Sector Hourly Rate of $21.36 determines dollar value of service to the city at just over $5 million. 

Volunteers are also able to provide services that are not provided by staff such as the Library Homebound volunteers that deliver books, the Park Ambassadors Program and docents for the Arizona Museum of Natural History.

The program began more than 20 years ago in a handful of departments and spread throughout city government. Large city departments such as Mesa Arts Center, Arizona Museum for Youth, Arizona Museum of Natural History, Library, Neighborhood Outreach, Parks and Recreation and Police Department have volunteer coordinators. Other departments, such as the City Prosecutor's Office, Economic Development, Development and Sustainability and Fire Department, also use volunteers and non-paid interns.

The full-time volunteer coordinators and part-time volunteer coordinators who provide this service to other departments as part of their regular full-time job meet every other month as the Citywide Volunteer Management Group.

"Our mission is to serve as a resource, provide education, communication and recruitment of volunteers for the City of Mesa," Byrne said.

Alvis coordinates a number of volunteer programs in her position in the city's Neighborhood Outreach Department.

"The neighborhood outreach volunteer programs allow us to further meet the needs of our residents and to improve the quality of life in our community," she said. "Through programs like Neighbors Helping Neighbors, volunteers assist Mesa residents who, due to limited financial resources and/or physical limitations are experiencing difficulties maintaining the exterior of their homes. ... We are able to collaborate with other city departments to avoid things like code violations and the volunteers who donate their time and resources undoubtedly leave a lasting impact on our community."

Common Neighbors Helping Neighbors projects include painting the exterior of homes for low-income residents or assisting with landscaping work for elderly residents. 

Other neighborhood outreach volunteer programs in Mesa include:

• Building Strong Neighborhoods: The Building Strong Neighborhoods (BSN) initiative is a comprehensive neighborhood program led by the Neighborhood Outreach Office and the community to preserve and strengthen Mesa's neighborhoods. A volunteer component is built into each BSN initiative. 

• Participation and volunteer event organization for National Days of Service including: Make a Difference Day - a citywide volunteer event with more than 1,500 volunteers in 2011; 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance; MLK Day; Global Youth Service Day and National Volunteer Week. 

• Mayor's Youth Summer of Service: A series of service-learning projects especially designed for teens ages 14 to 17 during the month of June.

• Youth Volunteer Efforts: Work closely with local youth organizations, including the Boy Scouts of America, for projects such as: painting curb numbers to improve emergency response time, cleaning parks, alley cleanups, distributing educational information and local school beatification projects. 

• Sign Sweep Team: Assists the code compliance division by conducting the removal of nuisance signs placed illegally in Mesa. Volunteers work with the volunteer team leader to collect signs throughout the valley.

"The volunteer services that are provided through Neighborhood Outreach volunteer activities brings about lasting improvement in our community and demonstrates that service can be an effective strategy for solving problems," Alvis said. "It helps us recognizing that our community can be strengthened by individuals who act on their commitment to help others. Service opportunities in our city provide opportunities for all, young to elderly, to do their part to help build a better Mesa."

Details: For more on Mesa's volunteer program, visit www.mesaaz.gov/volunteer.