As they work to serve their communities, nonprofit organizations and faith-based groups in the Shenandoah Valley area of Virginia are finding out they can be stronger together and they collaborate and share resources.
On Sept. 29, a diverse group of these community organizations gathered in one spot for the inaugural “Community Connect and Serve,” hosted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Representatives of nearly 40 nonprofit groups from Clarke and Frederick Counties and the city of Winchester set up booths in the Winchester Virginia Stake center and shared information with each other and with the public.
The collaboration was sponsored by JustServe — a website an app where community groups can list their volunteer needs — as well as Community Foundation of the Northern Shenandoah Valley, Top of Virginia Regional Chamber, United Way of Northern Shenandoah Valley, Valley Health, and the Nonprofit Alliance of the Northern Shenandoah Valley.
For the first two hours, exhibitors were able to connect and share best practices with each other before the doors were open to the public, which was helpful for Jeffrey Stern, director of community engagement at Sinclair Health Clinic.
“It was terrific. I enjoyed the opportunity to network with organizations I know well, and those I didn’t know before,” Stern said.
Valley Health’s director of community health, Jason Craig, also spoke about the collaboration and connections made from the inaugural effort.
“This was a wonderful event that was successful through the collaboration of a community that cares about the people that live in it,” Craig said. “Organizations were able to connect, many expressing that they learned about their friends and allies in the community, and the JustServe volunteer network came out to learn and align their desire to serve.”
JustServe specialists like Shannon Atkinson-Ganoe played a pivotal role in planning the event. “I believe this type of event was long overdue,” she said. “I am so honored to have been a part of such a great team.”
Melinda Topham, who serves as the Winchester communications director for the Church, said all the participating organizations and community members seemed very happy they attended and with the connections they made.
“I was very moved by how much people genuinely care about their neighbors, their desires to reach out to those in need, and their efforts to make a difference in the lives of our community members,” Topham said.
Topham explained that while the organizations have different interests and clientele to serve, they have the same overall goal — “to bless the lives of those in need and work together to make our community a stronger, healthier place.”
Lisa Read from the Shenandoah Valley Ward got ideas for service projects for the youth in her ward and also for her family.
“I was surprised to learn about a couple of organizations that will be helpful to our autistic son, as he is growing into adolescence,” she said.
She also learned of organizations that would be able to help with healthcare, housing and food for women she ministers to in her ward: “I was amazed by the willingness and eagerness to help people with those basic needs.”
Emily Deardeuff of Winchester noted all the resources represented by the different groups at the event.
“I loved seeing all of the ways that organization leaders are joyfully giving of their time to serve the community in causes they are passionate about. There are so many people in our area trying to love and take care of each other,” Deardeuff said.
She saw how organizations worked to match volunteers’ skills and ability with their service. And if their organizations weren’t a good fit, they suggested other avenues.
“There was definitely a feeling of excitement, love, and unity in the room.”
Jason Wright contributed to this report.