United Way to begin volunteer program at Cape junior high

Saturday, October 18, 2008

With the economy in distress, the United Way is emphasizing volunteerism, especially in schools.

Nationally, the organization is discovering more people need help but fewer are in a position to donate financially. The third part of the mission "Give, Advocate, Volunteer" has become more essential, said Nancy Jernigan, executive director of the United Way of Southeast Missouri.

A pilot volunteer program will launch around the start of 2009 at Central Junior High School in Cape Girardeau. Teachers are being asked to compile lists of needs, which could include reading to a class, making copies, helping supervise a specific event or providing homework assistance after school.

"Money may be starting to dry up, so it's time for people to get engaged themselves," Jernigan said.

Jernigan still feels confident, however, that the campaign target of $1.275 million will be met. Reports have not been finalized yet, she said.

Once projects or opportunities are finalized, the Volunteer Intergenerational Center will work to plug people in to schools. People of all ages are needed, and there is no minimum time commitment. A background check will be necessary.

Volunteers, particularly retired teachers, are also needed at after-school programs to help keep costs down costs, Jernigan said. United Way partners with the Boys & Girls Club, the Family Resource Center, Grace United Methodist Church and school districts to offer the LIFE Initiative. The after-school program offers tutoring, field trips and recreation, with a stress on social and emotional skills.

LIFE Initiative coordinator Jo Peukert said there are "so many assets that need to be put to work. We've got jobs. Now let's put people into action."

Volunteers serve as role models, Peukert said. A major concern identified through the River Corridor Task Force, formed in 2007, is the need for positive leaders in low-income areas.

About five years ago, the United Way of Southeast Missouri, troubled by low test scores, became involved with school districts. Previously, it only worked with "agencies," Jernigan said.

Now, United Way supports early childhood initiative Success By 6, the teen developmental asset initiative Thrive and the LIFE Initiative.

"People can say some parents haven't done their job, and I think that's right. But we need to identify those people and reach out to them," Jernigan said.

Those interested in helping should call the Volunteer Intergenerational Center at 335-7555.



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