Nonprofits see strong volunteerism, but others aren’t so lucky

By Jeff Malachowski | Daily News Staff 
MetroWest and Milford-area nonprofits are seeing a steady stream of volunteers, but are always in need of more.
Forest Lyford smiles as he carefully repairs the broken leg on a small wooden chair.
“If all the parts are there, we can make it right,” the longtime Northborough resident said with a chuckle. “I get some gratification out of fixing a piece of furniture that might have been discarded and making some good out of it.”

Woodworking – particularly fixing chairs – has been a lifelong passion of Lyford’s. He married that passion with volunteering a few years ago after initially going to Fresh Start Furniture Bank’s then-Tower Street headquarters in Hudson to donate a couple of chairs. He casually mentioned to Directors Sue Waudby and Geoff Schultz he repaired furniture as a hobby.
“The rest is history,” he said.
Lyford is one of about 100 volunteers – nicknamed “green shirts” for the color of the T-shirts they wear while working – that give time to the furniture bank, an all-volunteer nonprofit that provides furniture and other household goods to needy families.
Several volunteers at Fresh Start, including Lyford and Jennifer Pincus, work with numerous nonprofit organizations. Pincus, of Sudbury, volunteers with the MetroWest Free Clinic and Temple Beth El.
“It’s indescribable,” Pincus said of the satisfaction she gets from volunteering.
Many MetroWest and Milford-area nonprofit organizations are seeing a steady stream of volunteers, but always need more, particularly weekdays.
The Milford Humane Society has plenty of volunteers, but more are always welcome, said President Barbara Farrington. It can be difficult, at time, to attract helpers due to personal commitments, such as work, school and caring for parents and children.
“There is a lot more going on in people’s lives,” said Farrington. “We have some very dedicated people.”
The United Way of Tri-County has an army of more than 3,500 volunteers who give their time to three food pantries, two cafes, the Call2Talk program and other initiatives.
Finding people during weekdays has always been challenging.
“That’s not new,” said Paul Mina, president and CEO of the United Way of Tri-County. “That’s always the case. If it’s during the day people are working.”
Mina’s stable of volunteers includes a mix of young people, retirees and out-of-work adults. The United Way of Tri-County’s charitable efforts thrive due to the constant replenishment of its volunteer team. The organization attracts volunteers through Facebook, word of mouth and volunteer drives.
Encouraging and thanking volunteers is critical, said Mina.
“We try to do a good job of that,” he said. “We rely very heavily on volunteers. Their impact is enormous.”
Habitat for Humanity of MetroWest-Greater Worcester’s recruiting strategy involves outreach events at farmers markets and community fairs. The nonprofit has seen a slow, but steady increase since 2015, said Molly Pietrantonio, volunteer coordinator.
In Natick, organizers feared a lack of volunteers would mean cancelling the annual Fourth of July Parade, but an online survey generated more than 40 potential volunteers, in addition to the 20 already on board. The Natick Friends of 4th said earlier this month the 20 volunteers were about 15 short of what they need. The Friends announced Thursday the parade will be held this year.
“The parade might be a little smaller this year,” said Peg Waters, chairwoman of the Natick Friends of the 4th. “There could be one less band or (entertainment) act, but it’s still going to be a great parade.”
On the flip side, the longstanding Marlborough Festival of Trees was canceled in 2016 because of a dwindling number of volunteers. The Marlborough Historical Society ran the event for eight years. Bob Kane, Society vice president, said several board members got ill around that time and it became increasingly difficult to recruit volunteers.
“We can’t get the younger people to jump in and do it,” he said. “If we can’t get the young people involved, it makes it hard.”
The Boys and Girls Club of MetroWest and Paragon Shows teamed up to revive the holiday tradition in 2017, but did not hold it last year due to a scheduling conflict. It is unclear if the event will be held this year.
Kane believes community interest in volunteering has been on the downswing for years. He never had a problem attracting volunteers to work the Labor Day Festival years ago, but had trouble recruiting for the Taste of Marlborough when he was on the board. He often offered tickets to the event in exchange for workers.
“It was like pulling teeth,” said Kane. ”...I’ve volunteered my whole life because of what you get out of it.”
Reporter Henry Schwan contributed to this report.
Jeff Malachowski can be reached at 508-490-7466 or Follow him on Twitter @JmalachowskiMW.
Photos courtesy MetroWest Daily News