By Donna Cornelius
Most people who move to new cities get involved by joining the PTA or the Rotary Club.
Neil and Patti Eggers didn’t join an existing group. They started a new one.
In 1998, the couple founded Hands On Birmingham — with a little help from their friends.
“All six of them,” said Patti with a smile.
The reason for the couple’s small circle of pals was that they’d recently moved to Vestavia Hills from Atlanta.
“We were relatively new people in Birmingham and wanted to plug into the community,” Patti said. “There was a Hands On Atlanta, and Neil had volunteered there.”
That’s how Hands On Birmingham was born.
The “Hands On” organizations operate like a charitable temp service, connecting people with a wide range of opportunities for service.
“In the early days, we called it ‘guilt-free volunteering,’” said Patti.
The Eggerses and their friends didn’t have much experience with nonprofits, said Patti. Starting with Sunday school classmates from Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church, which still supports HOB, the little group operated out of homes with one phone line and a Homewood post office box.
“We did a newsletter and called on every corporation that would allow us to come,” said Patti. “We also visited clubs.
“Slowly but surely, we grew.”
By 2003, HOB had grown from 435 volunteers to 2,161. It merged with United Way of Central Alabama in 2009 and has expanded into four neighboring counties.
A Place for Everyone
Volunteers can visit the HOB website and check out a lengthy list of groups that need help. HOB’s directory literally runs from A to Z; it starts with A&D Ministries and ends with Zoom Motorsports.
Website visitors can specify the time they have to give plus their interests.
Bob Boylan, HOB’s county outreach coordinator and a Mountain Brook native, said HOB helps people find the volunteer job that’s just right for them. The system ensures that those who love landscaping won’t be assigned a math tutoring job.
“You can try it out before making a long-term commitment,” he said.
Clubs, civic groups and corporations in search of team-building exercises can sign on for a day of service.
HOB strives to be “customer service-oriented,” said Patti.
“There’s a lot of preparation for each project so there are no glitches with the volunteers,” she said. “We don’t want people to be overwhelmed. We make sure that all the supplies or tools are provided, even name tags.”
Project coordinators are trained to be liaisons between the nonprofits and volunteers, said Melissa Fierstine, HOB’s program manager.
“They’re there to guide the volunteers and offer support,” she said.
In addition to ongoing opportunities, HOB sponsors several major events each year: a back-to-school backpack drive; a 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance; Bunny Aid, which provides Easter baskets to needy children; a family day of service; and, coming up Jan. 16, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.
Visit HYPERLINK “http://www.handsonbirmingham.org” www.handsonbirmingham.org to see if there’s an opportunity that’s right for you.
“If you don’t see something you’d like to do, call us,” said Fierstine. “We’ll find something for you to do.”
HOB Readies for
MLK Day of Service
Jan. 16 marks Hands On Birmingham’s 11th Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. Volunteers are encouraged to spend the day giving back to their community.
“This event is a perfect match for our mission,” said Samuetta Nesbitt, United Way of Central Alabama’s senior vice president of communications. “We wanted to encourage people to make this a day on, not a day off.”
If you’ve never volunteered through HOB, MLK Day is a great time to give it a try, she added.
Opportunities vary from year to year but always include something for almost every age. This year, volunteers can sign up for activities at the A.G. Gaston Boys and Girls Club, Community Kitchens, Habitat for Humanity, the Ronald McDonald House, Turkey Creek and many more places.
The MLK event attracts from 1,200 to 2,000 workers annually, according to Melissa Fierstine, HOB program manager.
It’s important to sign up on the website ahead of time, said staff members. Volunteers will receive email reminders with directions to the site and instructions on what to wear.
Visit www.handsonbirmingham.org to register or for more information.