For Veronica Kirin, volunteering isn’t something that she fits into her schedule – it is part of her everyday life. Kirin, a Grand Valley State University alum, founded a nonprofit organization in October called Hands Engaged in Life’s Projects (HELP) to connect volunteers with volunteering opportunities.
“I have a lot of friends who know I like to volunteer and so they would always be coming up to me and saying, ‘Where can I go next? How do I volunteer?’ and I just got to thinking to myself that there should really be an easier way for volunteers to find these opportunities,” Kirin said.
Kirin hopes to move her organization from the local level to the state level and then the national level. To help with this transition, Kirin is currently working on filing for tax exemption.
“A lot of volunteers find a passion in volunteering, but have to stop because they run out of money,” Kirin said. “I know a lot of people who just wanted to help with Katrina Relief but couldn’t because they couldn’t afford to keep going back to New Orleans. But the Gulf Coast still needs help.”
HELP took volunteers to New Orleans for a week last month, where they worked with other organizations to help rebuild the city, which is still struggling to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Suzanne Elasivich, a current GVSU graduate student, went on the trip to New Orleans.
“I just really wanted to go again and volunteer,” said Elasivich, who had volunteered in New Orleans with other organizations before. “You get a different understanding about what it going on. People don’t really know how devastating Katrina was and it was on our own home soil.”
Elasivich said that volunteering with HELP was a great experience and that she would encourage other GVSU students to take part.
“You don’t really understand it until you go there and speak with the people and hear their stories,” shesaid. “And then you get to go out and help them rebuild their lives. It’s an incredible thing. You learn about yourself, too, and gain a different kind of strength through all of these experiences.”
One of the reasons HELP works is the passion with which Kirin leads the organization, Elasivich said.
“She’s really passionate about what she does,” Elasivich said. “She creates these unique volunteering experiences that I don’t think you’d be able to get elsewhere. She really strives to make that more intimate and to make sure that you are totally immersed in where you are working. She goes deeper than other organizations I’ve worked with.”
Kirin studies social anthropology during her time at GVSU.
“That helped a lot in my view of the world and how I interacted with different cultures,” Kirin said. “Other cultures may not translate into ours, so to avoid issues we need to help people in the way that they need to be helped rather than the way that we wanted to help them.”
As a member of Amnesty International GV, Kirin was encouraged to engage in volunteerism and humanitarian work, and she said that her time at GVSU helped influence the creation of her organization in some ways.
“The university helped me develop my wants and to find my direction,” Kirin said. “I was taking what I learned at the university and applying it elsewhere.”
The current president of Amnesty International GV, Molly Barnard, said that she thinks the work being done by Kirin and HELP is great.
“I think that HELP will make a big difference in our community,” Barnard said. “Congratulations to her for going out there and working on her passions.”
Barnard added that she believes what Kirin did is a clear demonstration of what Amnesty International members and other students can do when they leave school.
“One of the really great things about Amnesty International is that we really try to get people engaged and involved,” Barnard said. “And people can see the differences they make within our community and across the globe. They’re making a difference, which encourages people to make a difference elsewhere.”
Kirin said that those who are interested in volunteering should visit the HELP website at www.handsengaged.org or by taking part in HELP’s first annual Wine Tasting Benefit.
The benefit is schedule for June 3 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Leonard at Logan Bed and Breakfast. Kirin said admission in $15 per person in advance and $20 at the door. Hors d’oeuvres will be served with the wine. To purchase a ticket or for more information, visit the HELP website or email [email protected]
“There are so many organizations that do not survive and cannot do what they do without the help of volunteers,” Kirin said. “There are just some things in this world that cannot be accomplished by products and by money because there are some things that money can’t buy. It can’t buy a big heart and it can’t buy loving people willing to give you a smile. Volunteering is so important because it connects so many different lives and avenues and services and I think it’s healthy for the soul.”