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Creating Impact Through Volunteering – Part 4: Growing Community Partnerships

Creating Impact Through Volunteering – Part 4: Growing Community Partnerships

By: Gabrielle Kay, Corporate Partnerships Manager, United Way Australia 

When United Way first started organising corporate team volunteering projects back in 2003 it was about showing workplace giving donors the work our community partners were doing and helping them in other ways through unskilled team volunteering program.

This unskilled team volunteering program is now known as Corporate Connect and in 2012 worked with over 60 community partners across Australia.

In this fourth blog we reflect on the impact for our community partner, through a case study with a long term partner, Pathways Early Childhood Intervention, a small community organisation in Sydney’s inner west supporting families with children with disabilities.

The early Corporate Connect projects at Pathways ECI spruced the outdoor areas, creating sensory gardens and helping with other jobs the Pathways ECI staff and parents using their services just didn’t have the time to do.

Sylvana Mahmic, CEO, Pathways Early Childhood Intervention, says “the impact of the many Corporate Connect volunteering projects is more significant than the physical work that has been done. For the families who use Pathways ECI services, they are struck that businesses and their employees would choose to volunteer for an organisation they have no relationship with. This is powerful for these parents who are in difficult situations, as well as the staff members supporting the families.”

Sylvana describes the long United Way relationship as one that has provided practical, professional and emotional support. She thinks back to the start when they use to operate from a demountable building with an annual budget of $200,000. Today Pathways ECI is a $1.6m organisation with 18 full and part time staff, providing services to 150 families. Sylvana says, “you can’t develop an organisation by yourself. I count my lucky stars that United Way and their corporate partners have directly contributed to the organisations success. Everyone has a part to play.”

The impact of the community relationships goes further. Our community BBQs do more than feed residents in low income areas. One of our community partners working with residents in one of these  communities has shared what the locals say when the volunteers have left, “they now realise that behind those big brand names there are people just like them.”

This understanding of each other’s lives is the start of building trust, a key ingredient in building vibrant communities.  Hugh Mackay, wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald last year (18-19 May, p22 News Review) “experience is the great mind change, the great teacher. Our most significant attitudes and beliefs ... are based on lessons from life itself”.

Corporate Connect team volunteering projects have been building community trust a project at a time, breaking down the barriers that occur in our large cities. By building understanding, through working together, this work has demonstrated to clients and residents in vulnerable communities that others do care about them. This brings to life United Way’s mission which talks about the caring power of communities to improve lives.

These learnings by both corporate volunteers and the local communities they help, are leaving a legacy beyond the days work, a legacy that strengthens communities. In the fifth and final blog we’ll share how United Way is extending this volunteering journey to increase corporate engagement and create community impact.