Add Joy to Your Life: Say “Yes” to Giving

A lifetime of volunteering

Connie Brown has been volunteering for the majority of her life. When she was a young girl growing up near Cleveland, she would shovel snow to clear driveways for neighbors who weren’t able to do it for themselves.  “I just have a heart for people,” she says. “I enjoy serving others. No one made me do it; I just enjoyed doing it.” She adds, “That was a long time ago. I’m 72.”


Connie Brown, top center, volunteers regularly with the Samaritan Center, a “grace-driven nonprofit organization with a mission to serve the hurting and hungry of Northwest Arkansas with dignity and compassion on a regular basis.”

You can see Connie’s love of volunteering in the impacts she logs on GivePulse. Between June and August of 2019, she recorded over 400 volunteer hours with four different organizations — and that’s just a scratch on the surface of her volunteer efforts. “I’ve had and enjoyed a lifetime of volunteering,” she says.

Unique giving culture

Her recent volunteer efforts have been in Northwest Arkansas, where she says there is a unique giving culture.“We have Walmart, we have other large businesses; we have a diverse community, a diverse population, and everybody gets along,” she says. “It’s very unique I think — I came from an area where that was not the case, it was a very divisive community over race and ethnicity. But here everybody gets along, everybody helps each other — it feels like we all partner to help those who need help.” 

When she first moved to Northwest Arkansas eleven years ago, Connie says, “I was looking for volunteer opportunities, places where I fit in, where I liked their mission. I just kind of slowly tried different places out, and saw that I fit, and that I liked their mission and I liked making a difference with them.” 


“You end up having that community of new friends when you volunteer… When you get acquainted with them, they become your friends, your family.”

For Connie, these organizations offered a community of like-minded individuals. “Many of the volunteers are long-term volunteers who have volunteered faithfully at the same place for 35 years — here they are week after week, day after day. To me, it’s amazing. It just shows the commitment of people in our community to organizations that make a difference and that help others in our community that need our help.” For example, Connie recalls fellow volunteer Jan from Helping Hands, who worked alongside her on Wednesdays until she moved away last year. Connie says, “When I’m working alongside Jan, who is 100 years old, I’m thinking ‘Oh my gosh, when I grow up I want to be like Jan!’” 

By returning to these same organizations on a regular basis, Connie says, “you end up having that community of new friends when you volunteer… When you get acquainted with them, they become your friends, your family; you get so much more than you give… I enjoy the volunteers that I meet; I enjoy serving the guests we have for lunch at the Samaritan Center, or the VA hospital, or the people who come to the food pantry at Helping Hands.”


Connie Brown serves pie at the Samaritan Center.

A heart for people

Connie believes that volunteering is a crucial part of life. “For the people who don’t volunteer at all, they’re just missing out on so many opportunities. It takes a village of all of us, and I’m just so glad to be a part of that village.” She adds, “Giving to others will never lessen what you have — it increases what you have exponentially. You give and you get so much more back.” 


“Giving to others will never lessen what you have — it increases what you have exponentially. You give and you get so much more back.”

The key tenet of volunteering, she says, is to have a heart for people. “You need a heart for people. You don’t need to be judgmental. You just need to have a heart for people and a willingness to serve.” 

For those who have not volunteered much before and are looking to start, Connie has this advice: “Look at areas you’re interested in. Try a place… Just try it. If you don’t like it, move on. You don’t have to be on the frontline of anything that’s done, you can be in a supporting role. I’m not the one leading the band; I’m a band member. But to just simply try it, and take that risk. You might like it, you might not like it. Ten to one, you will find a place where you really fit, where you really support their mission of what they’re doing, and where you found a new place to make a difference.”

A new place

Discovering something new about your community is another critical benefit of volunteering. Through volunteering, “you get opportunities to be with people you would not ordinarily be with — face to face with a homeless person, face to face with childhood hunger. When you’re serving those children lunch, and they’re eating and eating and eating.You get to see a side of what’s going on in your community that you may not in your own circle get exposed to… There’s people that kind of stand out, who you meet, and they make their mark on you just like you make your mark on them.”


“You get to see a side of what’s going on in your community that you may not in your own circle get exposed to.”

Two years ago, when Altrusa International celebrated their one hundred year anniversary, Connie took this idea of trying new things to another level. Altrusa International, a nonprofit focused on children’s literacy, asked their volunteers around the globe to volunteer one hundred hours that year. Connie recalls, “I thought, ‘Well, I do that in a month, what would be a challenge for me?’ This wasn’t required. I thought, ‘I’m gonna try 100 new places to volunteer.’ Now that was a challenge! It was something worthy of celebrating Altrusa International’s 100th birthday.”


This photo was posted on Altrusa International of Bentonville/Bella Vista AR’s Facebook page, which Connie maintains. Gay Kiker, President of Altrusa International of Bentonville/Bella Vista AR, describes Connie as a blessing to the organization.

In this personal challenge, Connie says, “I did all kinds of things — I did things I was interested in, things I had never done before, and it was just really eye opening and challenging, and a lot of fun.” In one of her new adventures, Connie volunteered for Trifest MS, a weekend long triathlon event that encourages participation for adults and children with disabilities. Connie was an encourager on the bike course: “I would holler at each one and high five.” Connie says that at first she wasn’t sure about the fit of this, thinking, “A bike course? Me?” She loved the experience and says it reminded her that “you just have to be open to new opportunities, and be willing to say ‘Yes.’ ‘Can I help serve 2000 hot dogs in an hour?’ ‘Yes!’”  

When you commit to stepping out of your comfort zone, Connie says, “You get to see what other organizations are doing, you get to be a small part of it.” She adds, “That was a really fun different experience for me. It was amazing when I was done. I was thinking, look at all the things I’ve done! Look at all the places I’ve done in NWA! Look at all the things that I’ve learned. It was a cool experience.”

Looking forward

Connie is passing this love of volunteering on to her grandkids. Her granddaughter has been volunteering alongside her in the food pantry at Helping Hands since she was four years old. “She couldn’t reach the tables,” she recalls, “but she was willing, and we worked side by side. I flipped over a plastic container that she could stand on. We would fill the bags with the staples that each family got, we would get the shopping carts out of the parking lot, we would recycle the cardboard and select the bread. I can vividly remember the first day we took her — when we came home, her mama asked, ‘Did she enjoy it?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Do you wanna go back?’ ‘Oh yes — they need me.’ She felt needed, she felt wanted.” 

Connie herself has no intentions of stopping anytime soon. “I hope the day I die I’m volunteering somewhere.”

We highlight partners and volunteers in this “Why I Give” blog series to showcase why they are passionate about their work and ultimately inspire others to be passionate as well.

Inspiring Minds Spotlight: Empowering Providence Students

This post is part of our Spotlight series, where we spotlight our incredible partners. We are so thrilled that GivePulse has been able to work with these nonprofits, institutions, and corporations!


A volunteer with Inspiring Minds Power Lunch program uses his lunch break to mentor elementary school students

Inspired volunteers

With programs spanning the Providence public school district, Inspiring Minds maintains deep ties to the Providence, RI community. Inspiring Minds has several programs that work with elementary school students in Providence; according to Melissa Emidy, Executive Director of Inspiring Minds, “the underlying theme of all of our programs is that adults go into classrooms in Providence public schools and create relationships and support academic success.” 

These relationships rely upon effective and consistent engagement from volunteers and the nonprofit. Emidy defines engagement as “being authentic and listening to the needs of your community, and providing services that are impactful and effective and to the benefit of your community.” This focus on authenticity and impact has shaped the recently updated mission of Inspiring Minds: “Inspiring Minds empowers students for success in school and life by supporting them with trusted relationships, tutoring and mentoring from inspired community members.” Trusted relationships are at the forefront of Inspiring Minds’ mission. 


If volunteers are to create trusted relationships in Providence public schools, they must recognize how their own backgrounds and those of the students impact their work.

Building bridges

To accomplish this mission, the volunteers need to understand the context of their work. In order to create trusted relationships in these schools, they must recognize how their own backgrounds and those of the students impact their work. 

“Both students and teachers come with background information, most from different places,” says Emidy. “We work with elementary school kids only, and 95% of those kids are students of color, 86% are poor, and our teachers are overwhelmingly white middle class women. They have different backgrounds.” This is where the volunteers come in: “By bringing community members into the classrooms, we build a bridge between those two worlds.” 

While many teachers commute in from towns and cities beyond the Providence border, volunteers are members of the Providence community. Through Inspiring Minds’ programs, Emidy says, “Kids build a relationship with someone who’s in their supermarket — how cool is that? Having community members in the class is awesome.”

Functioning within dysfunction 

The work being done by Inspiring Minds and their volunteers is necessary and complicated. Providence public schools were recently the focus of national attention when an investigation by Johns Hopkins University researchers found that students in Providence public schools were performing drastically below the national average, with 90 percent of students not proficient in math and 80 percent not proficient in English. The reasons for this are widespread, including extensive issues of bullying and fighting, low student engagement, and low teacher morale.  Emidy describes the report as “93 pages of absolute heartbreak.” While she notes that there are good practices happening at some schools, the underlying conditions surrounding Inspiring Minds’ work remain complex: “We are a community agency functioning within dysfunction.” 

“The underlying problem,” Emidy adds, “is systemic racism, and that’s a big issue to grapple with, especially for people who haven’t been on that journey to understand their privilege.” In this context, training and volunteer management are crucial, particularly as the volunteers’ actions in the school can be life-altering for students. “In a lot of cases,” Emidy says, “these trusted relationships between community members and students makes [the student’s] day.” To build this trust, volunteers must learn how to communicate with and inspire these students. 


“We are a community agency functioning within dysfunction.”

New model

Before Inspiring Minds started using GivePulse, volunteer management took up a significant amount of time that could otherwise have been used for training volunteers and interacting with schools. But with GivePulse, “We are so much more efficient,” Emidy says. “We can spend more time in schools supporting volunteers; our whole entire agency has shifted because of GivePulse. We don’t spend nearly as much time matching and placing — we spend much more time at schools.” 


An Inspiring Minds mentor helps a student to work through his assignment 

This shift in focus from volunteer management to program enrichment is evident in the roles of the Inspiring Minds staff. “In our new model,” Emidy says, “we have a program director who is going to be meeting with teachers and learning what our kids’ needs are through data and conversation.” With the extra time provided by a responsive management system, this director “can then go into a classroom and coach [the volunteers] in how to work with that kid.” According to Emidy, this is “transformational from where we were two years ago.” 

Inspiring Minds worked to set up GivePulse in the summer of 2018. Emidy says that the best thing Inspiring Minds ever did in setting up GivePulse was to hire an intern whose role was to learn and train others in the platform. “Anyone that’s going to change and have a new system is going to have an implementation plan,” Emidy says. “You’ve got to have a subject matter expert, and you’ve got to have someone who’s going to do the tedious work and then train your staff.” 

In regards to these trainings, Emidy adds, “Be patient.” It may take time for volunteers and coordinators to engage fully with GivePulse, but once they do, the organization will transform. Overall, Emidy says that switching to GivePulse “has changed our organization tremendously. I’m happy with it; I tell people all the time.” 


With GivePulse, Emidy says, “We don’t spend nearly as much time matching and placing — we spend much more time in schools.”

Increased information

A key facet of this change is the information Emidy is able to gather through GivePulse. Before using GivePulse, Inspiring Minds wanted to get everything on one sheet of paper, and because of this did not ask any demographic information. 


Emidy says that switching to GivePulse “has changed our organization tremendously.” 

With the online application she has added through GivePulse, Emidy says, “Now I can tell what the demographics are of my volunteers. I now know their employment information, and the big question — does your job do matching gifts? I can look at their employer and know that XYZ employer matches gifts and get that information to that volunteer, so that I can not only get the volunteer’s participation and time, but I can also get a corporate gift.” 

Tracking volunteers

Interactions with both volunteers and donors have been altered significantly by implementation of the platform. “We interact so much more. If you go back to when I first got here, we didn’t even know how many volunteers we had out there on any given day.” Now, when Emidy wants a funder to come and visit a program, she “can just log in to the system and do a little magic and find out how many volunteers [she has] at one location at any given time.” 


When she wants a funder to visit a program, Emidy “can just log in to the system and do a little magic and find out how many volunteers [she has] at one location at any given time.”

Moreover, these operations can all take place at the very start of working hours: “Operationally, I can do everything I need to do before I hit the office, which in a small shop is beautiful.” She can access critical aspects of volunteer management “anywhere. It’s all in one spot.” 


Trust is developed through play as well as tutoring in Inspiring Minds’ programs

Volunteer tracking and coordinating benefit from this easy access to information. Emidy can easily “message people who need to know one certain thing. I can message all of my RIC students a RIC notice; I can email all my Brown work-study students and tell them their timecards are due; I can message an entire school and tell them that next week is eighties day.” These targeted messages allow for efficient volunteer coordination, opening time for actions that more directly impact the elementary school students.

Looking forward

Now, Emidy can focus on creating trusted relationships through both work and play. Inspiring Minds is currently planning for trainings that will address how to move forward after the Johns Hopkins report, including a panel discussion on the report’s findings. 

In addition, Inspiring Minds will be working with an Americorps fellow to manage volunteers with GivePulse. Beyond this, they have “a couple of new things in the works,” including a burgeoning work-study partnership with Providence College. 

Even as these elements change, Inspiring Minds’ emphasis on mutual trust and growth remains the same. Their play-based model relies on understanding how different contexts and backgrounds influence interpretation. Emidy says that in her trainings, she can watch this understanding grow. Students are far from the only ones who benefit from this engagement: “It’s such a cool, eye-opening thing when you say that to adults… having that community member in the classroom, it’s learning on both sides.” 



“Having that community member in the classroom, it’s learning on both sides.”