Congratulations to Ron Stilwell, Associate Director, CARITAS, in being named GRAVA’s 2007 Volunteer Administrator or the Year!
CARITAS is the largest emergency homeless program in central Virginia and has one of the largest volunteer pools of any program in the area. The more than 12,000 trained CARITAS volunteers are the backbone of our agency. Ron has the HUGE task of coordinating the work of these wonderful volunteers. He recruits more than 170 different congregations in the Richmond area (each of which provide between 50 and 100 volunteers) to assist in sheltering our clients, and he trains the key volunteer from each group and makes sure that they have everything they need to have a successful volunteer experience with our program. Ron is also available by cell phone anytime there is a question or concern from a volunteer while they are providing shelter for CARITAS.
Ron learned the art of volunteer administration and management “by fire.” In 2001, when CARITAS’ first Associate Director (who had only been with the agency for 9 months) was transferred, Ron took the promotion to Associate Director and the rest is history. Under Ron’s direction, CARITAS has grown from a network of 110 congregations providing 22 weeks of shelter to more than 170 congregations who provide food and shelter to over 1,350 different men, women and children 52 weeks a year. In addition, Ron coordinates the annual Volunteer Dinner, which has the dual purpose of 1) thanking the volunteers for their service with a nice meal and an array of door prizes and 2) getting new programmatic information and volunteer manuals to each congregation. It is estimated that Ron coordinates 12,000 – 15,000 volunteers annually who cumulatively donate nearly 83,000 hours of their personal time to make CARITAS possible.
Ron, although the greatest introvert of the CARITAS staff, has outstanding leadership skills. He is fair and volunteers and clients with care and respect. He is available when needed, gives guidance to volunteers, and creates meaningful mentoring opportunities between new congregations and those that have been providing shelter for years. In an unanticipated situation, Ron will provide volunteer support by showing up at a host congregation in the rare case of a client outburst due to mental health issues. If a circumstance arises in the evening that does not require his attention on–site, but that may cause a volunteer some angst, he takes the time to call those involved the next morning to take advantage of the educational opportunity provided when working with the homeless. Ron always looks for new ways to assure that our valuable volunteers have a positive experience with our programs. He looks over all staff evaluations from the congregational volunteers and takes the time to respond to volunteers’ concerns as well as complements.
Ron knows all of his Key Volunteers by name and sight and listens when he is in conversations with his volunteers for other opportunities that may help CARITAS. Several times Ron has passed on funding-related information that resulted in new donors and new avenues of funding to help CARITAS raise the $1.1 million dollars needed annually to operate. This year, Ron is working on adding regional trainings for groups of volunteers so that they can meet other CARITAS volunteers and share ideas and resources as needed.
Two years ago, Ron assisted a group of volunteers in Charlottesville in coordinating a replication of CARITAS. Out of the goodness of his heart and with no additional money, Ron took it upon himself to help this group create a system of volunteers to shelter of feed the growing population of homeless in their community. The organization, called PACEM is completing its second winter of emergency shelter and with Ron’s help and access to CARITAS’ materials and experience, they were able to eliminate many of the problems that CARITAS had to deal with since its existence.
Ron helps with any opportunity to share his experience with other groups that use volunteers. He takes advantage of any training that comes to the area involving the utilization of volunteers so that his ideas remain fresh and his volunteers continue to feel appreciated. His commitment to volunteer administration has led him to a leadership role with GRAVA.