Spare time, make change
The Bronx Volunteer Coalition prepares to launch
Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
Time is precious.
It can seem that there is never enough of it to address what needs doing: school, work, family.
And yet, volunteers find room for a little more – and are rewarded in spades.
Unfortunately, the Bronx has a limited supply of volunteers, according to Iris Ramírez, who has donated her time to Big Brothers and Big Sisters for over nine years.
There are so few Bronx volunteers for Big Brothers and Big Sisters that many children are paired with mentors from other boroughs, she explains.
Even then, there is still a shortage.
“Children in the Bronx are wait-listed because there aren’t enough volunteers. And it’s been like that for years,” adds Ramírez.
“29 percent of the children we serve reside in the Bronx, but just 5 percent of our mentors do,” concurred Michael Coughlin, Chief Quality Assurance Office of Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City.
For over a year now, Coughlin and Ramírez are two of several Bronxites who have joined to create and organize the Bronx Volunteer Coalition (BXVC), which currently has 29 member organizations seeking volunteers.
The mission of the organization is to increase volunteerism in the Bronx by providing a platform for member organizations to share information and collaborate, and to serve as a database for residents interested in lending a helping hand.
To do so, BXVC seeks to address the difficulty Bronxites might have connecting to organizations.
“There is no clearing-house for volunteer opportunities,” said Ramírez. “I’ve had people approach me and say they want to find an organization, but are unable to find opportunities online.”
To that end, BXVC organizers will host a website launch and reception on Tues., May 14th at the Bronx Museum of the Arts.
The event will coincide with Bronx Week 2013 celebrations, and will also be the opening day of a special exhibit at the museum on volunteerism by Bronx sculptor and curator Jose Antonio Ojeda.
There will be food and refreshments, and lots of mingling—socializing with a heart.
The Bronx Museum of the Arts is affiliated with BXVC, as are several older organizations, including Big Brothers and Big Sisters and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York.
These organizations can lend expertise to newer groups.
Marlon Molino, who grew up in the South Bronx, is another founding member of BXVC. He was a community organizer for many years, and now works in the in private sector.
Molino explained that new non-for-profits often experience “growing pains” and the BXVC is meant to facilitate growth and expansion of non-for-profits.
Molino still volunteers in the Bronx though he no longer works within the borough.
“We all have day jobs, but we need to save our souls,” joked Molina during a meeting with Ramírez near Jerome Avenue and Fordham Road.
Ramírez said she was inclined to join Big Brothers Big Sisters because of her own experience growing up as a Puerto Rican immigrant in urban Connecticut.
Ramírez said her parents always supported her, but were at a loss when it came to helping her with schoolwork and the college application process.
She found she was able to get assistance from volunteers from the Upward Bound Program.
“They sorted it all out for me,” she recalled.
Ramírez felt a need to give back, in an immigrant community similar to the one she grew up in. It is how she ended up living and volunteering in the Bronx. She has had many different adventures with her Little Sister in the Big Brothers Big Sister program—one of the most unusual experiences was when she and her “little ones” helped dig trenches to plant bushes in Union Square Park.
Molino said one of his most memorable volunteer experiences was when he helped repair a house for Habitat for Humanity.
He explained that all types of skill sets are needed, and throughout his years as a community organizer, he has seen people will all types of career backgrounds help out.
“I knew a maintenance worker who, after work, could come out and help clean parks,” he said. “It’s personal, how people get involved, and our coalition is very broad-based.”
Attend BXVC’s launch at the Bronx Museum of the Arts on Wed., May 14th. Contact Samara Weiss at email@example.com for more information. BXVC’s temporary website can be found at www.bxvc.org; the updated website will also be launched on the 14th.