United Way Volunteer Center


By Sandra Raak, JLFM Past President & Kathleen Williamson, JLFM Past President & Shamie Kelly, Sustainer

Did you know that the United Way’s Volunteer Center, which connects individuals and companies to volunteer opportunities throughout our community started as a Junior League project? In 1967-1968, the Junior Welfare League was contacted by the Health and Welfare Council of Lee County about the possibility of a joint effort. The League created a Volunteer Bureau Study Committee to investigate the need of such an agency including surveying the community agencies regarding the need for volunteers and the willingness to use a Volunteer Bureau. Finding a definite need, the Committee recommended that the League undertake this project including its organization, financial obligations, and operation for a one-year period on a demonstrative basis. The project was approved, and a League Standing Committee was formed. The Volunteer Services Bureau acquired officers, a charter, by-laws, and Community Leader Advisory Board and an office (located at 1514 Broadway) and officially opened November 13, 1967. This project only had one goal – matching people to community needs.

The first requests from Community Agencies for volunteers were League volunteers. A Speaker’s Bureau and a publicity campaign were organized to inform the community about the Bureau. After four months of operation every request for volunteers had been filled and 42 volunteers were placed in the community in 15 agencies. By 1974, the VAC had over 500 volunteers, over 50 nonprofit health, welfare, civic, educational, and cultural agencies and 44 groups on file. Some of the agencies who participated included the Red Cross, YMCA, Florida Heart Association, Big Brother of Lee County, the Lee County Humane Society, Legal Aid, Lee County Clothing Center, Mental Health Association, Salvation Army, and LARC. Over ½ the agencies registered were serviced each month. Jane Barnes, Director of the Junior Welfare League League’s Volunteer Services Bureau states “It’s catching! One volunteer gets all fired up about what he is doing and tells a friend, and before you know it, we have another person volunteering.” True then as it is true today – “a volunteer can find his niche easily because there isn’t an age group that doesn’t need help of some kind, and in volunteer work one can put their finest skills to work.” In June of 1975, a satellite office was opened in Lehigh which serviced 75 agencies.

The Volunteer Action Center (renamed the Volunteer Service Bureau or VSB) became affiliated with the National Center of Voluntary Action and functions financially independent of the League, due to their membership with the United Way of Lee County. In the Spring of 1977, after 10 years of Junior League support both actively and financially, the Volunteer Action Center was turned over to the community. The League continued to devote many hours of service in staffing the office and serving on the Board of Directors.

Over the years the Junior League of Fort Myers has continued to support the United Way’s Volunteer Center (current name) through funding Mini Grants, using the Volunteer Center to acquire community volunteers partnering for events such as the League’s 50th Anniversary 50 by 50 Community Service Challenge, Taste of the Town, Volunteer Fairs and various other community projects the League does with their Done in a Day projects.