Entrepreneur develops program to help volunteers find outreach opportunities in local communities
Samantha Blyn donated items to charity and wrote checks to support nonprofits. But she says she did not really view volunteering as a need in the community until age 39, when she signed up to help with Habitat for Humanity.
She not only felt a sense of fulfillment in helping others, but discovered what would become her life’s mission.
“When I saw the needs of people, who through no fault of their own were struggling and trying to provide for their families, I had to become involved,” says Samantha, who is based in central Florida.
Painting and caulking became so rewarding that she was driven to serve—and to help others connect to service opportunities.
“I wanted to become more involved in service to others, but where and how could I start?” Samantha asks rhetorically. “So many organizations—so many needs!”
In talking with other people, Samantha discovered they also felt overwhelmed.
“With our busy lives and so many people to help, how do we find a way to actually make a difference?” Samantha asks. “It’s not that they don’t want to become involved. It’s just that they don’t know where to start, or where they’re needed.”
The University of Central Florida communications graduate set out to change that—along with Florida’s status as 49th out of 50 in a national survey on best volunteerism.
In 2009, Samantha founded Making the Difference Outreach—an all-volunteer nonprofit organization committed to making it easy for people to find ways to help others and discover how rewarding it can be to give back.
“MTDO bridges the gap between the community and organizations that need volunteers to make a difference,” Samantha explains. “We work to assist many different causes, and encourage those in our community to find the one that touches their heart.”
The organization’s web platform provides a one-stop inventory of volunteer opportunities for 10 nonprofits seeking help: Make a Wish, Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels, Second Harvest Food Bank, UCP (children with special needs), Big Brothers Big Sisters, Children’s Home Society, Florida Hospital Foundation, Junior Achievement and Kids House of Seminole.
“You can choose the organization you would like to help, view a calendar of volunteer opportunities and register online for what you would like to participate in,” Samantha says. “You can also view needs for contributions and wish lists by clicking on the organization’s link.”
As chairwoman of Making the Difference Outreach, Samantha spends hours each week talking to employers, civic clubs, churches and businesses. She encourages them to give their employees a day off a year—with pay—to volunteer.
She has persuaded 14 companies in her area to do so. They are listed on her website as “employers of choice.”
A tracking tool allows employers to see who in their company is participating and the number of hours they give back to the community.
The push for volunteers involves not only individuals, but couples and families. Samantha takes a particular interest in students.
“When our young people start helping others, they grow into adults who continue to serve their communities,” she says.
The website makes registering, completing and documenting student volunteer requirements easier.
She hopes her web platform is replicated across Florida and into other states.
“Connecting people with people brings me joy and excitement,” says Samantha. “Encouraging others to volunteer and serve is what life is all about. People need to know how much they can offer and what they can do.”
If you are in the central Florida area and want to get involved, visit www.makingthedifference.us. Click “Find Out More” under each topic for additional information.