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Orange County Focus

Center Matches Volunteers With Causes

VOICES OF CHARITY IN ORANGE COUNTY. Last in a series of profiles during the holidays.

December 25, 1991|TED JOHNSON

The offices of a Santa Ana firm have the feel of a Fortune 500 corporation.

Seminars are held on such topics as "Navigating the 90s: Practical Idealism for Tough Times" and "The Power of Promotion." Workers feverishly answer phones in their cubicles. Clients come in and out all day, meeting with professional managers.

But this is the Volunteer Center, far from the world of net gains and profit margins. For more than 30 years it has been a kind of marketing and placement firm for 1,200 charities and other nonprofit organizations in Orange County. Instead of shoes or stocks, they sell the idea of giving.

"It's tough," said Carol Stone, the director of the center. "Nonprofits have always struggled. It's not like you produce a widget, they buy the widget and you make money off the widget."

During the holidays, the season of giving, many people will say they want to work for a charity. The Volunteer Center will guide them and give them the extra push.

"People want to get involved but many times they don't know where to go," said Zach Aspegren, the center's director of annual giving.

Each year, hundreds of prospective volunteers use the center to find the charity of their choice: everything from gleaning excess vegetables from fields to helping a former homeless person balance a checkbook.

"People who volunteer live longer," Stone said. "Employers encourage volunteerism because it promotes less absenteeism. It makes it so people have a purpose in their lives. It's really a two-way street."

The center has helped place more than 30,000 people with charities each year. Still, Orange County falls below the national average for the number of hours each resident spends volunteering, Stone said.

"Orange County is a growing community," she said. "It's easy to jump into your car, jump on the freeway, drive to corporate headquarters, work and drive home. And you don't really get that opportunity to be in the community."

The center has about half a dozen programs to designed get every sector of the Orange County population to volunteer. Among them is a "Borrow-an-Expert" service, in which professionals such as doctors, lawyers and accountants sign up to give advice in their fields to a charity.

Another program places seniors in a charity so that they can help out and at the same time get training in such areas as computer programming and word processing. The center even has a social club geared specifically to professional, single volunteers.

About 18,000 people a year volunteer through the center's court referral program after they have been sentenced to perform community service.

This year, donations to the charities and nonprofit groups have declined. The demand for money is even greater, and seminars on fund-raising have been standing-room only. Still, it's not all doom and gloom: The number of people wanting to volunteer has stayed the same.

"Money does certain things," Hoskins said, "but it will not solve a problem." People, she added, make the difference.

VOICES OF CHARITY IN ORANGE COUNTY. Last in a series of profiles during the holidays.

Volunteer Center of Orange County Incorporated: 1958; $2-million annual budget. Background: Assists nonprofit groups in fund raising and places volunteers in charity work. Address: 1000 E. Santa ana Blvd., Suite 200, Santa Ana, Calif. 92701. (714) 953-5757.

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