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Mission Possible: Conference explores the changing landscape of volunteerism in Appalachia

What are the most effective strategies for recruiting, training and evaluating volunteers for Appalachian community organizations?

That’s what more than 80 attendees of the Mission Possible conference came to learn about last week at the Athens Community Center.

The morning keynote speaker was Bob Garbo, former director at Hocking/Athens/Perry Community Action. After his welcome, attendees headed to breakout sessions on Appalachian Ohio history, recruiting students, financial impacts of volunteers and how social media affects volunteerism.

In the afternoon, OHIO University President Roderick McDavis spoke about how organizations can engage students, and how students can apply their learned experiences to internships and jobs. Afternoon breakout sessions focused on working with older volunteers, how to retain volunteers and legal issues surrounding volunteers.

The daylong workshop last Monday was sponsored by the Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development (COAD), Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions (CHSP) and The Athens Foundation.

For CHSP, the conference was another step in its widening mission to enlist community partners to help improve the health and well-being of families in rural southeast Ohio. In the past year, CHSP has hired a full-time director of community engagement and assumed administrative supervision of two community-based organizations: Athens County Child Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization that provides services for child sexual abuse victims and their families; and Athens Student Action, a local organization that matches Ohio University students with volunteer opportunities.

Kevin Davis, CHSP’s director of community engagement and a co-organizer of the conference, has high hopes for its future, and he thinks the partnership between CHSP and COAD may enable the conference to become an annual event.

“[The conference] is one of our efforts to reach out to the community,” Davis said. “It’s a day full of good resources, networking and partnership opportunities, and a large part is about working with students.”

Na’Tyra Green is a student writer for Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions.