Volunteer Center is Fort Wayne’s best matchmaker and Positively

If you live in Fort Wayne, chances are you’ve driven by the Volunteer Center more than a few times and wondered what they did. Turns out they did a lot.

Tucked away in an office park at 3401 Lake Avenue, you’ll find a small but dedicated staff with a shared goal of making our community better every day.

“We are blessed with an extraordinary group of people,” said Executive Director Ani Etter. “We have great stability here. People come to work and they stay. It really makes our agency better.”

Connecting aspiring volunteers with non-profit, civic-based, and faith-based community organizations is at the heart of what they do.

Volunteer Center Executive Director Ani Etter at her desk.

Etter describes the organization as a conduit for society. “I tell people that we are like a dating site for volunteers because we make those connections happen and create a connection between the volunteer and the agency.”

The services they provide are much needed as the country recovers from the global pandemic. The pandemic hit the most vulnerable individuals and organizations who served them so hard.

“One in four people in the United States are volunteering right now, but it’s declining,” said Program Outreach Coordinator Camille Garrison. “Unfortunately when Covid hit, we lost a lot of volunteers who have not returned.”

Camille Garrison Volunteer Center Program Outreach Coordinator

This is driving more organizations to turn to the expertise provided by the Volunteer Center to get their message across.

Neil Miller is the Greenways and Trails Program Manager for the City of Fort Wayne. “We are two in-town staff managing more than a hundred miles of trail,” he says. “We recently partnered with the Volunteer Center and they have made our job easier. They help us connect with people who are already on our lines and want to help.”

Neil Miller, Program Director for Fort Wayne Greenways & Trails, partners with the Volunteer Center and is also a volunteer.

Miller praised the efforts of the people at the Volunteer Center. “They are extraordinary people. They are experts in volunteer care at Fort Wayne. It is an amazing program they run and we are so grateful to be partnering with them.”

Testimony like Miller’s is music to Etter’s ears because it proves his program and approach work. She has been involved with the Volunteer Center since 2001 before they became an independent nonprofit in 2004.

Volunteering has changed and evolved over the years. While seniors still make up the majority of volunteers, Etter says they are reaching out to young people who want to make a difference. “We live in very different worlds,” he said. “Flexibility is the name of the game now.”

Volunteer Center staff accept checks from 3Rivers Federal Credit Union.

“I tell people that volunteering doesn’t have to take a lot of time. This can be as simple as helping out an hour a week, or every other week. We are completely flexible.”

Finding the right partner is Garrison’s forte. “I always tell people we have to find your passion. What gets you excited? Then we try to match those volunteers to their passions.”

Garrison says the feeling he gets when a volunteer is matched with the right mission never gets old. “It gave me chills when it happened because that’s our whole mission, to connect those people.”

Getting involved couldn’t be easier. Volunteerfortwayne.org is like a one-stop shop for signing up and seeing what’s available with their 126 partner agencies. “There is something for everyone,” says Etter. “You don’t need any special skills to volunteer. Everyone can contribute. I think that’s the message that gets to the heart.”

Miller, not only benefits from the organization, but she is also a volunteer herself. “It is the most rewarding thing you can do. I would recommend to anyone if you have time to give, try volunteering and find something that works for you. It may not be a trail system, but there are so many different opportunities out there and the Volunteer Center is a great place to see all of these.

Administrative Assistant Liz Merkler manning the front desk.

The most recent Volunteer Time Value report estimates the value of one volunteer hour at $29.95 per hour. By 2022, the Volunteer Center helped connect more than 1,200 volunteers who logged 94,839 hours of volunteer work. That adds up to an economic impact of $2,840,428!

“That was very important to me,” said Etter. “Because at the end of the day, whether it’s a good day or a bad day, I know that we’ve made a difference to a lot of people.”

April is National Volunteer Month. Next month, Fort Wayne Positive will highlight local volunteers who use the Volunteer Center and are now volunteering at four different agencies.

It’s easy to see why the Positively Fort Wayne Volunteer Center!

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