Volunteers provide valuable service to Huntington

Joe Weill (first from left) and Paula Weill (second from left) receive assistance from their children as they perform landscaping work in Huntington’s Memorial Park last year. The Weills were among over 5,900 volunteers who spent more than 19,000 hours working on a variety of projects, events and programs for the City of Huntington in 2018.
Joe Weill (first from left) and Paula Weill (second from left) receive assistance from their children as they perform landscaping work in Huntington’s Memorial Park last year. The Weills were among over 5,900 volunteers who spent more than 19,000 hours working on a variety of projects, events and programs for the City of Huntington in 2018.

Volunteers are providing a valuable service to the community, says the City of Huntington.

“It’s been a heck of a ride,” says Andrew Rensberger, the City of Huntington’s community engagement volunteer coordinator.

Rensberger has spent the past three years connecting people who want to help with community projects that could use the help. At first, he spent his time explaining community volunteerism to churches, businesses and service clubs, looking for people willing to tackle long-neglected projects throughout the city.

Now, with those initial projects complete and more residents aware of the opportunities, Rensberger has been able to expand his focus to include more event-oriented activities and projects tailored to fit individuals and families.

The first community volunteer project, and one of the most popular, is the cleanup of the Little River within the city limits. It’s been so successful, says Rensberger, that three separate cleanup sessions were held last year, with some 150 volunteers helping pull trash out of the river.

Over three years, he says, volunteers have pulled 10 tons of debris out of the Little River between the Broadway Street bridge to the Forks of the Wabash. The next river cleanup, a project that was initially suggested by a resident, is set for late July.

Those 150 volunteers who pulled trash out of the Little River last summer represent a fraction of the 5,947 volunteers who spent a total of 19,366 hours working on 158 projects, events and programs throughout the city in 2018.

Independent Sector, a national organization of nonprofits, foundations and corporations, estimates that an hour of a volunteer’s labor is worth $22.69. Using that figure, local volunteers provided the City of Huntington with $439,414.54 worth of work last year.

That’s more than $400,000 that didn’t have to be raised through taxes, Rensberger points out.

The volunteers have helped out with daddy-daughter and mother-son events, the Fall Festival and Great Pumpkin Hunt; set up Christmas lights at Sunken Gardens; planted trees, watered flowers and weeded gardens; painted, cleaned and more.

Public art projects got underway with concerts and a Chalk Walk and will expand in 2019 as more organizations and volunteers come on board.
Sometimes people can help out without lifting a finger. That’s the case with the Park and Trail Patrol, where volunteers who regularly use parks and trails just keep an eye out for anything broken or unusual, then report it.

Families can adopt a flower bed and make an outing of keeping that bed weeded, watered and generally in good shape.

Rensberger now finds volunteers with a “public shout out” on social media, the city website and newspapers. People already involved draw in their family members and friends.

“Once the first group starts participating, it really catches fire,” says Rensberger.

Anyone can contact the mayor’s office to get involved, or get in touch with Rensberger directly at an drew.rensberger@hunting ton.in.us.
Volunteers don’t need to be residents of Huntington. For example, a group of church youth from Franklin, KY, was in town for a few days last summer and called looking for a community service project. Rensberger put them to work planting trees, painting and doing some trail maintenance.

“Now we have people from a different community seeing how great our community is,” says Rensberger.

The volunteer program has an even greater impact closer to home, Rensberger says. The work done by volunteers can improve neighborhoods, increase home prices and enhance quality of life.

“The entire community benefits,” he says. “The volunteers have a personal investment in it and they’re saving taxpayer dollars.”