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UMass Chan Cares broadens volunteer opportunities in Worcester community

By Pat Sargent

Pamela Aubrey, assistant director, conflicts of interest and international risk for the Office of Management; Katie Kornitsky, clinical research coverage analyst for the Center of Clinical and Translational Science; Michaela Nobrega, department administrator for the Office of Management; and Lindsey Ford, research coordinator II for iSPARC, fill bags of food for veterans at Project New Hope in Worcester. 
(photo: Faith Ninivaggi)

On a Monday morning in late August, in the middle of an orientation for new employees at the Albert Sherman Center, Katie Stickney introduced a core value of UMass Chan Medical School to two dozen new employees: advancing the health and wellness of our diverse communities. This value is the foundation of the UMass Chan Cares program. 

“We want to expand what volunteerism looks like here at UMass Chan, especially with the caliber of employees that we have who are donating their time,” said Stickney, project manager for Community and Government Relations at UMass Chan Medical School.

The UMass Chan Cares program consists of two equally valuable components: time and money. Since its launch in 2018, both have been provided by UMass Chan Medical School employees by the thousands—in both dollars and hours— to support research, student financial aid and local organizations in need.

“It’s a way for people to get involved in their community, either financially or with their time or both,” said John Erwin, vice chancellor for government relations. Since its inception, the campaign has raised nearly $1 million through contributions made by members of the UMass Chan community during a campaign that takes place every fall.

In addition to the annual giving campaign, UMass Chan employees have the option of volunteering their time through the UMass Chan Cares volunteer initiative and can use up to 16 hours of scheduled work time per year to support their favorite causes and institutions
as volunteers. Since the start of the volunteer initiative in 2022, more than 300 employees have recorded more than 2,400 volunteer hours. For the 2023-2024 academic year, Erwin’s office set a goal to increase the number of volunteers hours by 30 percent.

“When I go to volunteer events, the enthusiasm that people have for doing the work makes me proud. I don’t think I’ve ever been at a volunteer event where somebody says they’re not going to volunteer again,” Erwin said. “For members of departments that work remotely, volunteering offers an opportunity to build camaraderie among colleagues who may have never met each other in person.”

Expanding the volunteer initiative

In 2023, the Office of Community and Government Relations introduced a monthly volunteer initiative, rallying participants through the UMass Chan Cares campaign and organizing efforts to service multiple communities and needs.

"For members of departments that work remotely, volunteering offers an opportunity to build camaraderie among colleagues who may have never met each other in person."

John Erwin - Vice Chancellor, Government Relations

"I think there are a lot of people who are craving that sort of connectivity—being able to provide their time while also providing a service to the Greater Worcester community. It’s been great to see so many nonprofit and educational partners taking advantage of these resources and getting things done that they wouldn’t have if not for our volunteers,” said Ché Anderson, assistant vice chancellor for city and community relations.

Since April, employees have volunteered through the monthly initiative at multiple sites in Worcester, including groundskeeping at Lake View elementary school and the EcoTarium; sorting donated clothing and food items at Pernet Family Health; and participating at the annual Stand Down event at Veterans Inc, an initiative providing food, clothing and other services for area veterans.

John Erwin, Katherine Stickney and Ché Anderson

“We wanted to be very thoughtful about building a good foundation for the monthly volunteer initiatives so that different community needs are in different areas, not just one type of community being met or one type of volunteer skill,” Stickney said. “We’re trying to expand the type of volunteer opportunities we offer and have these efforts use skills that our volunteers already have. Whether it’s graphic design, social media, marketing or any skills that will extend what we can offer to local organizations that need our help.”

 In September, another three dozen UMass Chan students and staff volunteers dispersed across the city to help at six nonprofit organizations as part of the United Way of Central Massachusetts’ annual Day of Caring.

Hundreds of volunteers participate in the Day of Caring each year, assisting with projects that include landscaping, painting, donation sorting and more.

This year, the UMass Chan volunteers spent their morning packing food boxes for veterans at Project New Hope in Worcester; helping clean up the camp area and cabins after a busy summer at the YWCA of Central Massachusetts’ Camp Wind-in-the-Pines in Leicester; assisting at the Worcester Public Library; processing donations and handling merchandising at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore; cleaning and organizing the food pantry at El Buen Samaritano; and painting walls at AIDS Project Worcester.

Stickney said the office has developed a “matchmaking” program to pair volunteers and departments with organizations in need based on availability of volunteers and the type of work they can provide. Individuals or departments identify the types of volunteer work they would like to do, and Stickney matches them with an organization that fits.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for volunteers to do the work,” Stickney said, adding that these group efforts are great for department team building.

While the monthly volunteer initiative and matchmaking programs can offer employees a range of options to consider, there is one recurring opportunity every month.

Volunteers from UMass Chan visit Veterans Inc., a veterans support services and outreach center in Worcester, to help in the food pantry or serve dinner to the many veterans in the area in need during the third week of every month.

Susan Dunshee, volunteer and activities coordinator at Veterans Inc. said, “If we didn’t have the UMass Chan staff members come in once a month to volunteer, it would be a lot harder for us to provide as much as we can to our veterans. Our teams work well together.”

“The volunteers come in and meet some of the veterans and build relationships with them. That’s something that is priceless,” Dunshee added.

Supporting schools in Worcester's North Quadrant

A cornerstone of the UMass Chan Cares campaign is the North Quadrant Support Services initiative that addresses socioeconomic barriers to academic success faced by many students in the city’s North Quadrant schools, which include North High School, Worcester Technical High School, Worcester East Middle, and Belmont Street, and Roosevelt, Grafton Street, Rice Square, City View, Union Hill, Vernon Hill and Lake View elementary schools.

UMass Chan established the North Quadrant Support Services initiative in 2017 with grant funding from the Remillard Family Community Service Fund, which provides ongoing support for community outreach programs led by UMass Chan faculty, staff and students. The North Quadrant initiative has become the most widely chosen option by members of the UMass Chan community who contribute financially to the UMass Chan Cares campaign and is now entirely funded by these contributions.

A signature project of the North Quadrant initiative is an annual backpack drive hosted by the Office of Community and Government Relations. The drive provides hundreds of backpacks loaded with essential school supplies to three elementary schools in the North Quadrant. This year, 675 supply-laden backpacks were donated to students in grades 1 through 3 at Roosevelt, Rice Square and Belmont Street elementary schools.

“I think it’s good for the kids to see the community coming in and helping and seeing that our district has a nice partnership with UMass Chan,” said Maureen Power, principal at Roosevelt Elementary School. “One of our core values, and something that we’re trying to build on, is having more community involvement so the kids can see people giving back. It serves a lot of good.”

Hannah Rinehardt, data analyst for Infectious Diseases and Immunology; Katherine Stickney, project manager for the Office of Community and Government Relations; and Colleen Locke, social media manager for the Office of Communications, paint the walls of a room at AIDS Project Worcester. (photo: Faith Ninivaggi)

In addition to the backpack drive, charitable donations to North Quadrant initiative directly support classroom teachers in the form of grants for projects that would not be possible without outside funding. This academic year, more than $34,000 was awarded to 28 teachers at nine schools in the North Quadrant, for projects that included accessibility improvements at the North High community garden and new lab equipment at Worcester Tech.

Food insecurity is among the barriers many families in the North Quadrant contend with. UMass Chan Cares is helping alleviate that burden by funding food pantries that are open to all students and families in the North Quadrant. In late 2022, the food pantry built by UMass Chan volunteers at North High was restocked just before Thanksgiving thanks to funds from employee contributions to the UMass Chan Cares program. And in February, through the volunteer initiative, UMass Chan students and staff volunteers helped clear out space at City View school for “The Eagle’s Nest,” a new food pantry accessible to the school’s 430 students.

“The success of the North Quadrant Support Services project exemplifies the spirit of collaboration that imbues the UMass Chan community,” said Chancellor Michael F. Collins. “Year after year, on this project and others, members of this institution show up and give of themselves because they truly care about the communities that surround us and are invested in their success.” ■