This past year, we talked about all the ways our community benefits from JustDane’s programs and efforts. Whether it’s Healing House, Circles of Support, or any other undertaking, Linda Ketchum, executive director at JustDane, makes it known that without volunteers, JustDane couldn’t provide a fraction of the services they currently do. “We have about 250 volunteers in various capacities, and our volunteers provide, on an annual basis, the equivalent of about 10 full-time staff hours,” she says.
Volunteering at JustDane starts at its governance. “Our board of directors is all volunteers, and that’s a significant commitment. We meet every month, and each board member agrees in addition to being on the board to serve on at least one other committee.” This also gives committee volunteers who aren’t on the board an opportunity to figure out if they’d like to be more involved with the organization.
Circles of Support, a program dedicated to helping those recently released from prison in navigating their reentry into society, has some of JustDane’s most dedicated volunteers, many of whom were once in the system themselves. Linda calls them the meat of the program, and for good reason. Each released person they take on is in a circle of four to six volunteers who meet once a week for a minimum of 90 minutes. To have 15 to 16 circles going at once, there just wouldn’t be the resources without the volunteers.
During the pandemic, “Circles, I will say, those volunteers, they just flowed with it,” says Linda. “It’s a testament, in part. Some of our volunteers in Circles have been volunteering for over 10 years. Their volunteering, it’s part of their purpose in life. It’s what drives them.”
That isn’t to say volunteers of other programs aren’t dedicated. After the early months of the pandemic, when uncertainty was particularly high, people were soon back to making meals for those at Healing House, a place where a family or child experiencing homelessness can go to heal after surgery. In other mentoring programs, volunteers worked to become more familiar with technology while JustDane helped to ensure everyone had the devices and software they needed.
Two of my favorite programs at JustDane are Family Connections and Reading Connections. JustDane’s website (justdane.org) describes the former as seeking to maintain and strengthen relationships with families affected by incarceration by organizing regular monthly visits between imprisoned mothers and their children, and the latter as offering parents whose children reside too far away for regular visits an opportunity to bond with their child and encourage their reading.
“We have one paid staff person, and everyone else working in mentoring and Family and Reading Connections are volunteers,” says Linda. “It’s mentoring with kids one-to-one in the community. Small group mentoring with justice-involved young adults. Now that the prisons are reopening, later this year, we’ll likely resume our Family Connections, taking kids to visit their mom at Taycheedah prison once a month. Select mentoring is a weekly commitment that someone makes.”
It’s important to note that not every volunteer has to give up a chunk of their week or weekend regularly. JustDane offers volunteer opportunities that fit any schedule. “Everybody’s life is a little different,” says Linda. “We can go with that. If somebody during the holidays is looking for an opportunity to help us, we can always use the help.
“The pandemic has certainly decreased the number of people volunteering in terms of new volunteers. We’ve had people express interest; it’s just been fewer than we normally would see. I think a lot of people have been finding other ways to contribute, especially initially with Covid-19. Many of our volunteers are retired, so they’re older and higher risk for complications from Covid-19. They were very careful.”
As the holidays approach and those who are more fortunate than others seek volunteer opportunities, JustDane is hopeful that they’ll be able to accommodate more people than last year with a wider variety of volunteering options. Donations are always appreciated, but having people to do the legwork is oftentimes just as, if not more, important.
“There’s groups that say, ‘Hey we want to volunteer with you,’” says Linda. “‘We have a volunteer day coming up.’ So we’ve had volunteer groups come in and clean and organize our storage unit or clean our sites. We’ve done some painting onsite at Just Bakery. And we have our simulations, which also rely heavily on volunteers helping us with each of those events.
“We have a holiday party annually for kids in our program. We get donations from people in the community, stores for gifts and gift cards, but we always need help with having volunteers come help us sort the donations that come in. Helping us distribute those. Same thing with Thanksgiving. We usually work with Goodman Community Center. We get turkey baskets from them, and we get those distributed to participants in our program for Thanksgiving. There’s a variety of ways to volunteer.”
I don’t think I ever really appreciated just how many people in the Greater Madison area are ready and willing, year in and year out, to give back. So many of our neighbors, regardless of their own personal hardships, appreciate all the good things in their lives. Are aware of their fortunes and blessings. The range of nonprofits we can take part in covers a variety of needs and interests, and they’re always looking for help. Because of the generosity from those willing to work with their hearts, JustDane and other nonprofits can improve and grow into the conscientious cornerstones our community prides itself on.
To everyone who gives their time once a year, once a month, once a week, or daily, thank you so much for helping the Greater Madison area work toward its potential.
Kyle Jacobson is a lead writer and senior copy editor for Madison Essentials.