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Volunteer Square matches willing helpers with charitable tasks

A Connecticut website provides a place where people find volunteer opportunities, and nonprofits find new volunteers.

By Cathryn J. PrinceCorrespondent / November 16, 2012

'We try to take the legwork out of [finding volunteers] for nonprofits,' says Rachel Reese, executive director of Volunteer Square, an online database used by volunteers and nonprofit groups.

Volunteer Square

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Fairfield, Conn.

It’s eHarmony for volunteers.

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VolunteerSquare.com, a virtual town square, matches nonprofit agencies in Connecticut with potential volunteers who want to help but aren’t sure where to apply their particular skills.

It's the invention of Ned Brokaw of Darien, Conn., who spent 27 years in the financial services industry, most recently as executive director of investments for Oppenheimer & Co. Inc. Mr. Brokaw wanted to create a centralized resource that was user friendly and harnessed the power of social media. And he wanted something both youths and adults could easily navigate.

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In 20 minutes or less a person can log on, create a profile, and sign up for email alerts from various agencies and groups, from those who deliver meals to the elderly or to those who help repair a home. Volunteers apply directly to an agency for an opportunity through Volunteer Square. After that it’s up to the agency and the volunteer to connect with each other and decide if they are a match, says Rachel Reese, executive director of Volunteer Square.

A year old, the Volunteer Square database focuses on Fairfield County, sometimes called Connecticut’s Gold Coast.

“It’s a little jarring for people because there is this sense that everyone in this county has money,”  Ms. Reese says. “But that’s not true. There are places in every town with tremendous need.”

As of October, unemployment in the county stood at 7.5 percent, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The city of Bridgeport, Conn., has a whopping 12.5 percent unemployment rate.

Superstorm Sandy highlighted local needs. More than 6,000 people sought temporary housing, and the number of people needing access to food pantries also rose. Volunteer Square’s activity increased, Reese says.

In Fairfield County residents used the site's blog as one way to organize a beach cleanup. More than 1,000 volunteers turned up to clean a three-mile stretch of beach. In Darien, Conn., the nonprofit group Person-to-Person used the site to publicize the need for food donations in Stamford and Norwalk, Conn.

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