Impact-Volunteering Improves Literacy, Youth Success and Safety
This is a guest blog post by Marcia Hope Goodwin, and the second post in a multi-part series from NLC, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and Cities of Service on the national and community service movement and its impact on cities and towns nationwide.
"I believe our plan is a progressive, resourceful and collaborative approach to impact-volunteering, helping address our pressing city needs through citizen service, while expanding volunteer opportunities in Orlando and increasing the spirit of volunteerism across our Central Florida region.” -Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer
In 2010, the City of Orlando was awarded a Cities of Service Leadership Grant, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation and Bloomberg Philanthropies, which enabled Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and the city’s first Chief Service Officer, Marcia Hope Goodwin, to coordinate a collaborative community engagement process to develop the city’s first high-impact service plan: Mayor Buddy Dyer’s Cities of Service: ORLANDO CARES.
Through stakeholder meetings and nonprofit partner feedback, Mayor Dyer and Ms. Hope Goodwin identified youth literacy, improved education, youth crime reduction, and community safety as the major challenges facing the city that could be addressed by engaging community members in impact-volunteering initiatives. More than 800 stakeholders and partners from all sectors of the community helped to create ORLANDO CARES and its initiatives. Since the plan’s launch in March 2011, Orlando has added programming based on Cities of Service Third Grade Reads and Volunteer CPR blueprints to their initiative.
The City of Orlando’s partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has been an integral part of ORLANDO CARES’ success. CNCS has provided AmeriCorps VISTA members that have increased outcomes, built capacity and increased sustainability in all of our programs. To date, 25 National Service members, including AmeriCorps VISTAs and Public Allies, have served in ORLANDO CARES, giving their year of national service to our country through city government and our community partner organizations. Our current Cities of Service Coordinator, Hiba George, is an AmeriCorps VISTA alumnus who, completed a year of national service with ORLANDO CARES, and was subsequently hired by the city to coordinate the program.
The six ORLANDO CARES initiatives serve many age groups, ranging from preschool students to high-school students. These programs allow for a wide range of volunteer opportunities for citizens, businesses, corporations and organizations. Volunteers who have a green thumb may enjoy mentoring upper elementary students in The Garden, a program that provides a safe and constructive opportunity for youth to connect with nature. Professionals may choose to volunteer for PathFinders as career coaches for middle school students. If a volunteer prefers a one-on-one mentorship instead of a group dynamic, 3rd Grade Reads powered by Read2Succeed offers an opportunity to tutor 1st or 2nd graders in vocabulary and/or reading fluency during an academic/school year.
Providing a variety of opportunities for volunteers enables us to engage more members of the Orlando community in meaningful ways. The volunteers who have given their time and dedication to ORLANDO CARES have a fantastic time doing so, as they build their social networks and increase their skill set, while making a tremendous impact! Each year the city hosts volunteer appreciation receptions, giving the Mayor, Chief Service Officer and staff a chance to thank the valued volunteers.
Since 2011, more than 6,310 youth have been served in all of the programs and over 2,200 volunteers have been engaged. Through the Mayor’s leadership, the ORLANDO CARES initiative has engaged over 35 community partners and has been offered in 29 schools and 13 community centers. Specific program details include:
- Through the Preschool Ambassadors program, volunteers read aloud weekly to preschool students and engage families in early literacy activities. To date, more than 1,500 students and families have participated in reading more than 4,500 stories. 85% of participating families have enrolled their children in pre-kindergarten programs.
- More than 1,800 youth have joined Mayor Buddy’s Book Club for middle school youth, committing to read one book every six weeks and complete book activities with encouragement from volunteers. 98% of participating students report that they have increased their leisure reading as a result of the program.
- Youth participants in The Garden program have planted more than 550 container gardens. Participants also maintain outdoor garden plots, learn about healthy foods and explore careers in agriculture. 95% of the student participants report understanding the importance of fresh produce in their diets.
- Volunteers that work in a variety of professional fields help middle school students in the PathFinders program to identify their interests, explore career options and create academic plans to support their goals. 100% of participating students have avoided school suspensions and have GPAs higher than 2.5.
- 3rd Grade Reads powered by Read2Succeed volunteers tutor first and second graders to improve their vocabulary and reading fluency. The weekly activities make reading fun and improve students’ academic performance through practice, encouragement and praise. Last school year, 100% of participating students increased their reading fluency and significantly improved their vocabulary.
- Take Heart Orlando (Volunteer CPR), our community-wide Hands-Only CPR/AED initiative led by our partner, the Orlando Fire Department, provides a 30-minute training to city residents, businesses and organizations. Volunteers take action and save lives by registering and getting this lifesaving training. Volunteers assist as CPR trainers and pledge to train at least five others in Hands-Only CPR. More than 3,900 volunteers have already been trained since 2013.
As the City of Orlando continues to grow, service-involved citizens have become a significant part of the landscape of the city. Our ORLANDO CARES volunteers are positively impacting the education and safety of Orlando’s youth, their families and our entire community.
"Through ORLANDO CARES, we are engaging volunteers in programs that help youth improve their academic success, increase their literacy skills, plan viable career choices and avoid the juvenile justice system, while improving the overall safety of our city. In our plan, we have created volunteer opportunities that impact educational outcomes and contribute to the safety of our community." - Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer
For more information about ORLANDO CARES, please read our Orlando Cares service plan or visit our website.
About the author: Marcia Hope Goodwin is the City of Orlando's Chief Service Officer and Director of the Office of Community Affairs and Human Relations. In 2010, when Orlando was awarded a Cities of Service Leadership Grant by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Rockefeller Foundation, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer appointed Marcia to lead Orlando's Cities of Service, Impact-Volunteering Plan, development and implementation. ORLANDO CARES, has successfully increased youth literacy and improved community safety.