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Web-based volunteer database to launch

A small task force is creating a centralized website to connect volunteers with organizations that need their help.

The Park Rapids Volunteer Network will list volunteer opportunities in Hubbard County.

The effort emerged from ACTION Park Rapids Lakes Area, a countywide initiative to identify areas of opportunity and change. For the past year, nearly 100 people from different sectors of the community have met quarterly to create 90-day action plans for nine specific areas: the arts, basic needs, business, education, health, seniors, volunteers and youth.

Carolyn White is one of the ACTION Park Rapids task force members who focused on developing a volunteer website.

Similar websites exist in Bemidji (www.volunteerbemidji.org) and the Twin Cities (www.handsontwincities.org).

White said members realized communication was lacking in Hubbard County.

"We also realized we have a lot of new people moving into town and talked about how they don't know where to go to volunteer. They're usually new, young retirees," she reported at last week's ACTION Park Rapids meeting.

Recently, the task force procured grant money to launch the Park Rapids Volunteer Network, but there would be ongoing, yearly costs to be shared among network members.

"We have a grant from the Park Rapids Community Fund and a pending grant from the Blandin Foundation that should maintain the website for a year or so," White said.

Living at Home, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, will serve as the fiscal agent for the Blandin grant.

The next steps are development and design of a customized website, with committee input. A contract was signed with Galaxy Digital, a website designer out of North Carolina.

"At the same time, our committee is going to start on recruiting organizations that will use the website and database," White said.

Once the website is live, Galaxy Digital will provide training. Each organization will have a site manager to post volunteer opportunities, White explained. Organizations describe their cause or special event, including shifts, age requirements, registration deadlines, skills or number of volunteers needed.

Each volunteer creates a private profile page, identifying favorite causes, nonprofit agencies, interests or skills. They can search and respond to volunteer opportunities.

The website allows organizations to message volunteers and export a list of responses. It also keeps track of volunteer hours.

Thus far, at least eight organizations are interested in participating.

The ACTION Park Rapids committee is seeking funding to maintain the website. Possibilities include establishing a fee structure of $30 per year or finding business sponsors, White said.

The goal would be to have a nominal membership fee so it's affordable for nonprofits.

To take part in the website, email parkrapidsareavolunteernetwork@gmail.com.

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