September is Tennessee Serves Month in all Tennessee state parks. Throughout the month, parks throughout the state are providing opportunities for volunteers of all ages.
The event is part of first lady Maria Lee’s Tennessee Serves initiative. Each month Tennessee Serves challenges businesses, state departments and members of local organizations to volunteer in their communities and in other communities in need.
How does one find volunteer opportunities? And how does a nonprofit organization get the word out that it needs help?
JustServe.org is a website and the easy-to-use JustServe phone app, new to this area, matches people with a heart to serve with service projects and other volunteer opportunities. The app recently became active locally when a group from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is committed to serving others, noticed numerous requests from businesses, organizations, schools and even other churches were coming to them seeking information regarding service projects.
JustServe actually began several years ago, but it didn’t take off in the Middle Tennessee area until the LDS church got into it, according to John Woodhouse, a member of the LDS church and now the local JustServe specialist for Middle Tennessee.
“JustServe support is underwritten by (the church) as a service to the community,” said Sarah Critchlow, also member of the LDS church. “The service is vital to any community. It’s a gift from the church to the community to make the community better and is not intended for proselytizing.”
As the trained specialist for JustServe.org, Woodhouse created a local page on the main website and encouraged area nonprofit organizations to try the site.
Lee uses the site for her Tennessee Serve initiative. Tennessee state parks use the site to enlist volunteers to assist in maintaining the parks. The American Red Cross utilizes central sites all across the country to get the word out for blood drives and volunteer opportunities. JustServe is also aligned with the Franklin City and Maury County parks, the African American Heritage Society, GraceWorks Ministries, Habitat for Humanity Williamson-Maury, area churches and nursing homes as a means to match their many projects and programs to volunteers.
Woodhouse trains organizations on JustServe.org policies, procedures, the service, setting up and organizing a page to list projects and maintain the listing. Once trained and a page created, the administrator may link the page to the organization’s own web page, if it has one.
“The training session takes about 15 minutes,” Woodhouse said.
Once the organization creates its own page, an administrator has the ability to edit the page, add photos and add or change projects.
When volunteers register, the only requirement is their name and email, Woodhouse said.
“They can also click things they like — animals, seniors, food banks,” he added. “If a project comes up, people hosting the project send an email stating a match notification and the project available.”
The volunteer has full control of what they want and there’s a firewall so volunteers don’t get spammed.
However, there are stipulations to using the site: no politics, no fundraising and no proselytizing.
High school students use JustServe to find a match for fulfilling service hours required by the Tennessee Promise or merely an interesting opportunity to serve.
“This is a free service for any nonprofit and for volunteers,” Woodhouse said.
And those looking for temporary volunteer opportunities in other parts of the country, like in one of the nation’s 61 national parks, 154 national forests or other private nonprofit organizations in other sections of the country, the opportunities are easy to find on the main site.
“This is an ideal way for nonprofits and volunteers to connect,” Woodhouse said. “It’s free, it’s easy and the organization controls what is posted.”
Carole Robinson may be contacted at email@example.com.