Touchstone recognizes two organizations for volunteerism

In a time when nonprofit organizations are seeing budget cuts, volunteers are needed even more. That is why the theme of the 2004 Touchstone awards was volunteerism.

In a time when nonprofit organizations are seeing budget cuts, volunteers are needed even more. That is why the theme of the 2004 Touchstone awards was volunteerism.

At a celebration Tuesday, the Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation awarded its Touchstone Gold Award to Men As Peacemakers and its Touchstone Silver Award to Kids Closet, in both cases for the creative and effective use of volunteers to benefit the community.

"We really selected volunteerism because the budgets have been reduced," said Holly Sampson, president of the Foundation. She said the biggest decline is in public money. "We thought this would be a way to illustrate the need for volunteers."

All told, 3,735 volunteers work for the 24 organizations that were nominated for the awards this year.

The groups are judged on creativity, innovation, resourcefulness and the ability to replicate the program or its use for a model for other programs. But the first concern is outstanding performance.


"We saw possibilities in each of these programs for replication," said Therese Scherrer, program officer for the Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation.

Men as Peacemakers (MAP) received the Gold award and a $5,000 grant for the broad and deep impact the organization has made on the lives of youths and their volunteer commitment.

The group organized in 1996 over concern about an escalation of violence in Duluth. The group focuses on getting men off the sidelines to take an active role in reducing violence in the community.

MAP works with youths in the community through its Mentoring Works program. More than 100 volunteer mentors work in six elementary schools and 350 volunteer reading partners are active in three schools.

The programs are working. Sampson said that improved attendance, self-esteem and motivation has been seen in the children who participate. She said MAP was recognized for its "significant impact on youth in a short time."

Damian Maher, 12, a student at Lincoln Park Elementary, has been in the mentoring program for seven years. "Overall, it's been real fun having him around," said Maher about his mentor Jim Cherveny. "He helps me keep my grades up. He does stuff with me in the summer to keep me out of trouble."

The Restorative Justice program has also been a positive influence on youths who have been involved in crime. Out of the 111 youths who were involved in peace making circles through the program, only three have reoffended.

Carl Crawford, chair of the board of directors for MAP, said the award will help the group continue to make peace an agenda.


"It's incredibly humble for us to get this award, especially seeing the other organizations that applied," said Crawford.

Kids Closet received the Silver Award and a $2,500 grant for its ability to garner resources to decrease program costs so that more funding goes to help youths. The organization provides clothing to elementary school children who are in need. The goal is to make it possible for children to attend school with dignity by providing everything from jackets and hats to underwear and gym shoes.

"They exemplify volunteerism because they are totally run by volunteers," Sampson said. There is no paid staff. Kids Closet is located at Laura MacArthur School and pays no rent. A social aid is paid by the city. And 99 percent of the money goes to buy clothing.

The closet began 20 years ago when two social workers from the school district saw a need in the schools to provide clothing for low income children and recruited members of the Retired Educators Association.

They now serve nearly 1,000 children in the school system each year.

Sampson said the group was chosen for its ability to resource. The secret is bargain shopping.

"Believe me, we are there for the clearance of the clearance," said Charlotte Kerelko, program director of Kids Closet. "We have moles in the stores who tell us when the clearances come."

A group of volunteers from Kids Closet go shopping at 6 a.m. the day after Thanksgiving every year to find the bargains.


Kids closet was also chosen for its use and recruitment of volunteers. "We have a secret method," Kerelko said. They recruit retired teachers who already understand the need.

Scherrer said that Kids Closet kept its volunteers involved by having monthly gatherings and by drawing volunteers from retired teachers who already had a connection to the schools. It was also the ability to garner external resources so that almost all of the money goes back to buying clothes to help children. "So they're focused. They get it all donated. They're the most cost effective organization I've ever seen," she said.

The Touchstone Awards, now in it's tenth year, was created to recognize and celebrate a program or project for its leadership in transforming problems into opportunities and service into action.

The Duluth-Superior Community Foundation encourages private giving for the public good. In the 22 years since its creation, the foundation has given over $20 million in grants and scholarships to the community.

News to Use

For more information on Men as Peacemakers, visit the Web site at http://www ., or call 727-1939. Kids Closet may be reached by calling 628-4899.

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