Nonprofit agencies support Whatcom County's quality of life

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 14, 2014 

Have you experienced the incredible summer jazz performances in Blaine or visited the Northwest Washington Fair? Have you walked on one of the beautiful trails in Whatcom County? Do you and your family enjoy any of the programs offered by our local colleges and the university? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, local nonprofits matter to you. Even your local library benefits from a Friends of the Library organization that raises funds for materials and other resources.

Whatcom County's nonprofits work in virtually every aspect of our community and their efforts make a difference to every one of us. Try to imagine downtown Bellingham without the farmers' market or Mount Baker Theatre, both of which are thriving nonprofit organizations. They add to the local economy and draw people from Whatcom County and beyond. Similarly, it is hard to picture what our community would look like without the crucial work being done to help everyone find a safe place to live, led by the Opportunity Council's 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness. The health and well-being of the children in our community is the focus of dozens of community projects including after-school programs at the Boys and Girls Clubs, early learning opportunities through Head Start, and healthy, fresh food through Whatcom Farm-to-School as well as school and community gardens. The list of impressive initiatives is long.

The collaborative spirit of our local nonprofit community brings together donors, volunteers, staff and other partners who collaborate to identify and address community opportunities and needs. Our community is generous and committed to making a difference. Looking back over the past three years, we can see that more than 4,000 donors and 240 businesses have helped the United Way of Whatcom County raise $6.2 million to support children achieving their potential, families becoming financially stable, and the enhancement of health in our community. Over that same time period, donors at the Whatcom Community Foundation have invested more than $9 million in essential community-building programs and projects. It is equally impressive to learn that the Volunteer Center of Whatcom County has worked with 2,784 volunteers who donated 600,000 hours at 149 non-profit, government and health-care related agencies during those same three years. Using the Independent Sector's $22.14 value of a volunteer hour for 2012, 600,000 hours represents $13,284,000 worth of volunteer time given in service to our community.

The impacts of these gifts are felt in countless ways every day. It means that families have access to enough food. It connects children with the support they need to thrive. Because of these gifts, we have impressive arts and cultural opportunities, and the natural beauty and wildlife that surrounds us are cared for and protected. All of this - and so much more - is made possible because of the thousands of volunteers, staff, board members and donors who work so hard to make Whatcom County the amazing place that we all call home.

We believe a healthy and vibrant nonprofit sector is critical to keeping our community strong. Our local organizations work in diverse areas; from feeding hungry families to restoring healthy salmon runs. Behind all of this good work, we are fortunate to have many passionate leaders and supporters. The Whatcom Council of Nonprofits, a program of the Whatcom Community Foundation, is a networking hub, educational resource that strengthens the sector here in Whatcom County. Whatcom Council of Nonprofits hosts monthly peer learning lunches where staff and volunteers exchange information about timely issues facing our community. The council also provides networking opportunities, an online calendar and a newsletter that includes resources, event information and more. Whatcom Council of Nonprofits' Schmoozefest is an opportunity for people from across the nonprofit field to connect, share ideas and learn from each other. All community members who are interested in this work are invited to attend.

For those of you who aren't currently involved with the nonprofit sector, we invite you to connect with this exciting, life-changing work. It might be as simple as a phone call to that organization that you have always admired to find out more about their needs. The Volunteer Center of Whatcom County, whatcomvolunteer.org, is another great resource, and you can also learn more about the Whatcom Council of Nonprofits, at whatcomcouncilofnonprofits.org.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Myers recently joined the Whatcom Community Foundation as the development and programs manager. She brings more than 15 years of experience in the nonprofit sector, having been involved with diverse organizations working in the arts, mentoring youth and promoting adult literacy. A former executive director at Allied Arts and the Whatcom Literacy Council, Myers currently serves as a trustee for the Bellingham Public Library.

ABOUT THE EVENT

The Whatcom Council of Nonprofits hosts SchmoozeFest!, 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20 at the Mount Baker Theater Encore Room, 104 N. Commercial St. The free networking event is open to nonprofit staff, board members, volunteers and supporters.

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