Macon County Nonprofits Perpetually in Need of Volunteers


 Deena C. Bouknight, Contributing Writer

Despite its small-community status, with a permanent population of around 4,000 within the Town of Franklin and close to 35,000 in Macon County, the area is replete with nonprofit organizations. And, while all are supported to some degree by individuals, businesses, and churches, all require ongoing donations – and, most importantly, live volunteers. 

“We can always use volunteers,” said Cathy Howman, who is president of Appalachian Animal Rescue as well as the director of the animal shelter. “There are just a few of us, about six to seven regular volunteers, and we are spread very thin.”

Opportunities at the animal shelter include doing laundry and washing bowls. “We can have 100 animals and they all have a water and a food bowl, and both need washing twice a day. So you can imagine we need volunteers just to do those things. And I know that some people get sad when they see animals in cages … I did at first, but there is such a need to interact with the animals. Dogs need to be walked, and we have a regular dog walking club that meets and walks them from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but anyone can come and walk a dog individually. But people who just can’t stand to see animals in cages, and I understand, can work at our thrift store sorting and hanging clothes.”

Other ways to support the shelter and the thrift store include shopping for supplies, fundraising, helping out at special events, and more. 

CareNet is a local faith-based resource center for crisis intervention. Some revenues are generated through its thrift store, which needs volunteers. Other volunteer opportunities involve assisting with the annual Backpack Program as well as at the ongoing CARE Closet, which offers gently used clothing, shoes, and household items, or at the Food Pantry, which provides food resources for low-income families. 

Olga Miller said, “Volunteering at CareNet for the last 10 years has given me a true connection to the people of Franklin and the needs of so many families. And with that, to see the love that Franklin has for its own. The resources, donations, and countless hours of volunteers, food from local farmers, food from local retailers – all is immeasurable. CareNet has allowed me to claim the Franklin people as my own family … given me an opportunity to be part of the solution in helping families in times of need. And nothing solidifies a community like Jesus.” 

Andrea Anders, executive director at REACH, said Betty Dieckmann, 92, has been a volunteer at REACH for Bargains since 1999. “She has been a part of REACH the second longest of anyone associated with the organization – volunteer or staff. She is such a dedicated volunteer that not only has she made a difference with the work she does for the thrift store, but also in being such a delight to be around with such a positive attitude that impacts everyone around her. She is an amazing role model for us all!”

Anders explained that REACH in 2018 utilized over 244 volunteers for in excess of 4,200 hours. Volunteers make a huge difference and are crucial in helping nonprofits succeed! REACH, which offers services and programs for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, needs volunteers to help with direct client service work, fundraising, community education/outreach, and at the REACH for Bargains Thrift store, of which proceeds benefit programs and services. 

“Volunteers truly make an impact on individual lives and make our community a better place to live,” said Anders “They increase our capacity and whether it’s an on-going volunteer, or someone who volunteers for specific one time projects … they help us meet the needs of the clients we serve. In addition, much of our government funding requires a match, and volunteer hours help us meet that requirement. So the work of volunteers not only make an immediate impact in the work they do, but they also help us leverage grants that bring funding into our local community to pay for many of our services and programs for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.”

Anders explained that all volunteers who work in direct client services must have 20-hours of training provided by REACH before their volunteer work can begin. After that, direct client work can include hotline coverage, assistance in the shelter, court advocacy, enrichment activities, and the children’s program.

“Often times volunteers may have experience in a certain area that lends itself to the volunteer work they do at REACH,” said Anders. “For example, we have a volunteer, Nancy Curlee, whose professional background was in special education; she now volunteers with REACH for tutoring and specialized children’s services. Children experiencing trauma and transitioning into a shelter can face some big challenges that often impact learning and school performance. Nancy is an amazing resource to help families cope with these challenges.”

Anders added: “For those who would like to support REACH and our mission, but do not necessarily want to do direct client volunteer work, there are many other opportunities for one to make a difference. For example, volunteers can assist with fundraising, outreach, or group projects. Outreach or group projects could include assisting with the creation of basic outreach materials, setting up and/or participating in an outreach event that promotes REACH’s services, distributing informational materials about REACH to community agencies, or working with groups who complete group facilitated projects at the thrift store or the agency to assist with clean up, yard maintenance, and/or other needed services. Fundraising volunteerism could include assisting with information about our event, soliciting donors and/or supporters, or attending the event.”

All-volunteer-run Macon New Beginnings President Bob Bourke said volunteers are always welcomed and much appreciated. Macon New Beginnings assists the currently homeless as well as individuals in imminent danger of becoming homeless. Although the homeless dilemma is not as visually apparent in and around Franklin as it is in large cities such as San Francisco, Calif., the need is great in relation to the size of the town. 

“Last year, Macon New Beginnings helped 368 people, and this year we are trending toward similar numbers,” said Bourke. “We also partner with 16 churches, businesses, and individuals to provide over 1,800 meals annually to any each Thursday.”

Bourke said volunteer opportunities are available in such areas as administration, which might involve volunteer coordination, web design, communications and marketing, newsletters, brochures, grant writing, and accounting; client intake and case management, meal setup and service; landlord and motel relations; “and many other aspects of community service.” 

Presently, there are 15 regular volunteers, which include five board members. “Many of our volunteers have full-time jobs as well,” said Bourke . 

A bevy of other volunteer-needy organizations exist in Franklin and Macon County, including Macon County Fair, which works all year to bring about the annual event, Community Care Clinic of Franklin, Macon County 4-H Clubs, Teen Challenge of the Smokies, Senior Services and Meals on Wheels, Macon County Literary Council, Habitat for Humanity, and many more.