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Jericho Road: Unlocking Your Parishoners' Potential for Change

General Assembly 2006 Event 3015

Speaker: Dan Holin, Executive Director, Jericho Road Project

Executive Director Dan Holin explained that the Jericho Road Project "bridges communities by matching the professional talents and resources of volunteers and partners with the needs of community based organizations that assist individuals and families to achieve economic independence." The Jericho Road of scripture was where the Good Samaritan helped the traveler who had been beaten and robbed. Echoing Dr. Martin Luther King in his April 4, 1967, speech, Holin urged us to recognize that "unless we change the whole road to Jericho, in a systemic manner, men and women will continue to be beaten and robbed as they make their journey along life's highway."

The Project's mission is to work toward systemic social change that complements popular church social action projects, which often focus on symptoms, such as lack of food and shelter. It does this by matching skills of willing, able, highly educated professional people who are looking to make a meaningful volunteer contribution with the needs of local community organizations.

Jericho Road was started as a project of First Parish Concord Unitarian Universalist five years ago, but has since become an independent organization that harnesses other faith based volunteer pools and corporate partners. The project began by networking with business people who wanted to use their professional skills to help people rather than by building Habitat houses or working in soup kitchens. Then came the task of persuading skeptical community organizations of nearby Lowell, MA, that there wasn't some kind of catch to the program that would burden them.

Holin said when he interviews volunteers, he looks not only at their professional skills, but at their people skills as well. He asks community organizations to submit applications that are thorough enough to identify the specific kinds of help they need to be more effective at what they do. He then selects a volunteer whose skills match the needs of the organization and facilitates a no-obligation ice breaker meeting between them to discuss the possible fit and see if they feel comfortable with each other. If both parties wish to continue, the scope of the work to be done is put in writing. Only then does the volunteer make a commitment to the project.

The Jericho Project seeks to be efficient, not creating reams of paper work for the volunteers or organizations. It expects accountability from both volunteers and organizations as well. The Project exerts great leverage by placing relatively few volunteers at critical junctures helping organizations improve their service, which then impacts thousands of people. The kinds of organizations they have helped include health centers, immigrant assistance leagues, day care centers, museums, Big Brother/Sister groups, economic development foundations and rape crisis centers. Volunteers have provided strategic planning, marketing strategies, leadership development, legal services, website development and many other services.

Though it might seem that the Project competes with churches for scarce volunteer resources, Holis claims it rather brings out people who don't otherwise volunteer. Evaluations show that satisfaction ratings from both volunteers and client organizations are very high. Volunteers form new relationships, are inspired by the work of the clients, feel very appreciated, and are grateful to use their skills where they have passion and can make a difference. Large businesses are delighted to find the Project because they don't have to take the risk and do the same work of sponsoring their employees' volunteer efforts. The nonprofit client organizations benefit by taking enormous strides in their capacity to serve their missions.

The Jericho Project is developing a replication strategy to start the same type of service in another city. It could be started anywhere, but it benefits from a good set of diverse non-profits to serve so it can attract a robust group of volunteers. Though Holis himself started with only two months guaranteed salary, the Project will guarantee two years' salary for the Executive Director at the next site. Applications will be carefully evaluated for the strength of the funding community (mostly family foundations), strength of leadership, and receptivity of client and volunteer communities. UU communities have a good start up set of volunteers because many UUs have the professional skills needed and are somewhat pre-screened.

Holis underscored the necessity of a long term commitment to the project because it needs time to get to know and be known by both the client and volunteer communities. It takes a persistent initial push to create the volunteer and client base, but then it picks up momentum.

Applications and further information can by found at dholin @ earthlink.net.

Reported by Pat Emery; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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