The scream of a chop saw fills what will soon be a bedroom. Jeff Eyler leans forward, making another cut through a spray of sawdust. He admits he does not have much carpentry experience — in fact, hardly any. Eyler is doing his best.
“We give back to the community where we’re going to work,” Eyler said. “It’s another way to give back — with our time.”
Eyler is a member of the Frederick County Sheriff's Office. But on Saturday, Eyler — and members of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 102 — were among nearly two dozen volunteers building a house in Brunswick with Habitat for Humanity of Frederick County.
Volunteers like Eyler are critical for nonprofits, which are often understaffed and overworked. Volunteers fill the gap. Someone has to organize the food for families in need. Someone has to answer the phones. Someone has to build the homes. Without volunteers, the lack of affordable housing in the area will continue, said Ron Cramer, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Frederick County.
“Without volunteers, we would just be building houses at market rates,” he said.
Habitat for Humanity of Frederick County is one of 31 nonprofit organizations participating in the Unity Campaign, a 12-day annual fundraising effort that officially kicks off on Tuesday. United Way is coordinating the effort, which last year raised $447,074. This year’s goal is $475,000.
The United Way will release its annual Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed report this week. The ALICE report provides a look at how people across the state earn incomes that do not meet the cost of living. In 2014, 26 percent of households in Frederick County had incomes that did not meet the cost of living.
Habitat for Humanity builds a house each year for an area family. Leslie Ajuria, volunteer coordinator, said the organization maintains a list of 3,200 volunteers to help — not just with building, but with customer service at its stores and fundraising events, too.
For the local chapter of Blessings in a Backpack, the entire organization is made up of volunteers. The nonprofit packs food at 12 sites throughout the county to give to children whose families struggle with meals after school or on weekends. Around 90 volunteers each week pack and distribute food for 2,600 children. Some volunteers go to multiple schools each week to pack, said Hermine Bernstein, program coordinator for Blessings in a Backpack.
“The commitment and dedication of the volunteers is extraordinary,” she said. “We have volunteers who come and they sign up and all of a sudden they show up with a friend.”
Volunteers benefit from the experience as well. Linda Snyder began volunteering after her husband died in 2008. The 75-year-old Frederick resident spends several mornings a week as a receptionist with The Arc of Frederick County, which provides support services for children and adults with developmental disabilities. The work gave her a sense of purpose after her loss and taught her more about her neighbors living with disabilities.
“I really believe in the work they do,” Snyder said. “I not only help them, but I help myself.”
Roles like the one Snyder plays for The Arc can sometimes be difficult to fill, nonprofit leaders said. Volunteers are often most excited about the flashy jobs, such as tutoring children or building a house. They are less excited about other tasks, such as filing. These administrative tasks are just as important, though.
Shari Ostrow Scher, founder and president of Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership, said her all-volunteer organization does not struggle to find people who are excited about helping. But the nonprofit, which provides services and support for children whose parents are in jail, does struggle to get volunteers to help with grant writing.
“We’re doing everything through grants and donations,” she said. “Without people helping us get grants, we can’t do our work because serving the children and families can be costly.”
The most important thing volunteers need is flexibility, Ostrow Scher said. Working with people is challenging. What a person expects when they sign up to volunteer might not be exactly what they experience.
“My bottom line is if we’re not the right group for you, find one that is,” Ostrow Scher said. “In this world, it’s important to give to others.”
The sentiment that every interested person can find a job is shared across the nonprofit sector. On Saturday, Terri Holland’s job was installing handles on kitchen cabinets. The sheriff's deputy said helping a family get settled in the community is important because she knows how hard being a homeowner can be.
“I feel like I’m doing something positive to put a smile on someone’s face,” Holland said. Adding, “I’m learning something I can use at my house.”