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Helping Hand From Cyberspace : Volunteerism in California finds a boost on the Internet

June 02, 1996

Whether it's feeding the homeless at a soup kitchen or tutoring disadvantaged children at home, many young adults are eager to help. But how to match the volunteers, many with demanding work schedules, with the needs? Some enterprising Californians have seized on an answer that's creative and not unexpected for young people in this state: the Internet.

Volunteer organizations are discovering its capabilities as an outreach tool for assembling and connecting volunteers and tasks. Two groups, one sponsored here by the nonprofit LA Works and another in the Bay Area supported by Jay Backstrand of Sun Microsystems, have gone a step farther into cyberspace. They are developing interactive web sites that not only allow groups to post volunteer opportunities but also permit volunteers to communicate how and when they wish to donate their time.

Surveys by Independent Sector, a Washington, D.C.-area coalition of nonprofit organizations, private foundations and corporate giving programs, show that almost half of Americans in their 20s and 30s have participated in volunteer work. This age group is also likely to have access to computers at home or work.

In many ways the new efforts are modeled after NetDay, the successful program last March that wired 3,500 California public and private schools to the World Wide Web. NetDay used web pages to establish an important link between corporate donors, volunteers and schools that allowed the participants to chart the progress of the wiring scheme statewide.

The web site approach to matching people and tasks promises to be a boost to volunteerism in an era when many young workers have variable work schedules and can make commitments to help only at the last minute.

To Take Action: E-mail your comments to Jay Backstrand at Sunmicrosystems Backstrand @eng.sun.com or telephone LA Works at (213) 936-1340.

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