Mona Sabeti wanted to volunteer in Atlanta during Pride Month.

Sabeti’s new to Atlanta—she’s pre-COVID-19 pandemic “new,” but still, not too long before that. So, it hasn’t been the easiest time to connect with volunteer opportunities in Greater Atlanta over the past year.

“I wanted to find some time to step away from my day-to-day work and give my time to people who need it more than I do, or my [job] does,” she says.

She was scrolling through her LinkedIn feed one day when she saw a friend post about United Way of Greater Atlanta’s “Unite for Service Week.”

This was a massive community-wide undertaking for United Way. It was a coordination of 40-plus service projects and more than 1,000 volunteers across 13 counties. All just in one week.

Volunteering is important work, though. Work that’s never over or finished.

Sabeti wantedto do more for her community—for families and children like her own. This brought her to an in-person—masked up and in conjunction with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines—volunteer opportunity at the Lost-N-Found Youth Thrift Store in Atlanta.

“This was the first time I’ve heard about Lost-N-Found and what they do for the community, but this definitely wasn’t the first time I’ve seen the United Way logo around the world,” Sabeti says. “I figured it would be a great opportunity to do something with [United Way] and give an extra set of hands.”

Lost-N-Found Youth’s mission is to end homelessness for all LGBTQ+ youth by providing them skills and support needed to live independently—LGBTQ+ youth are at a much greater risk of becoming homeless. Lost-N-Found provides emergency and transitional housing, food and hygiene supplies and jobs skills training among other things.

Sabeti and a team of volunteers including Stayce Michelle sorted and tagged clothing donations before they were rolled out onto the thrift store floor.

Michelle is “always down” to volunteer with United Way. She loves to participate anytime there’s a Day of Action or service week like this.

“One of the reasons why I like service week is because I get to learn about so many organizations that are partnered with United Way,” says Michelle. “I always like coming back to United Way because they make it easy for volunteers to access opportunities. The hours are convenient, and you get to meet people and become aware of organizations that have a need.”

Volunteering in-person has long been built into MUST Ministries in Marietta’s operation as a nonprofit. MUST provides food, clothing, housing, workforce development training and more for its community.

“Several times a year we have groups from United Way come in and help us,” Volunteer Coordinator for MUST Ministries Kristy Steely says. “Before COVID, we were about 80-85 percent volunteer run and now that has drastically reduced. A lot of our locations are small, so that forced us to work mostly with our employees.

“We’re getting back to where we were, though.”

United Way had a group of about eight volunteers on site. They were each working through large pallets of winter clothing that had been donated months prior. The organization began the process of inventorying items before shipping to one of three clothing shelters in neighboring counties.

The items on this day were going down the road to a clothing closet and thrift store.

“It serves as a clothing closet for our clients,” Steely says. “It also serves as a normal thrift store in the community where people who don’t qualify for services necessarily but still need clothing for an inexpensive price can come and shop for their families.”

Unite for Service Week took a lot of time and commitment from volunteers, nonprofit agencies and United Way staff. But the payoff comes with the connections we make to the community, new friends and ultimately the lives we change when we can unite for more in Greater Atlanta.

“This is something that’s been close to my heart,” Sabeti says. “I’m a little new to the Atlanta community, and this has been a great opportunity to learn about new volunteer opportunities that are easily accessible.”

The hundreds of hours logged over the past week will go further than you can imagine, and the impact you all have made on your community is exponential. Want to further that impact? Volunteer with us today. Can children, families and Greater Atlanta communities count on you? Let’s do more, together.

Kathleen Katzenstein was on vacation with her husband—the connection on her phone and computer was in and out, and on several occasions, she was miles offshore in a boat with no connection at all.

But, come Monday, she would make sure she could find a place where she could sit comfortably and come in clear through the video screen. She wasn’t about to miss another opportunity to read to one of the children in United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Monday Reading Program. She loved getting the opportunity to connect with students in the way she had connected with her own children as they were growing up.

“I’ll make sure I’m somewhere with a connection,” she says with a laugh. “I want to be fully there.”

And she has been for much of the past year. The retired attorney from Woodstock took this opportunity to “do something small but significant” to give back to Greater Atlanta during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I loved to read to my kids and grandkids, and so I said, ‘Let’s start here,’” Katzenstein says. “I started with United Way’s reading program, and I was impressed with the criteria they used to select which schools [to read for]. I learned a lot about third-grade reading level and kids learning to read so they can read to learn.”

These virtual volunteer opportunities were an easy way to encourage students to read along and comprehend the words Katzenstein would read to them. We know that if children aren’t strong readers, their opportunities are limited. We must give children the tools they need from the start to give them a chance to become strong learners.

Virtual reading projects were an important way for our volunteers to connect with these children. It helped further United Way’s work to improve the well-being of children in Greater Atlanta’s 13 counties—it helped us do more, together.

About two weeks into March 2020, the United States began shutting down restaurants, bars, gyms and schools in an attempt to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus. The infectious disease, COVID-19, has now infected millions, killed hundreds of thousands and has contributed to mass unemployment across Greater Atlanta and the United States.

The pandemic had already greatly impacted the way we volunteer, but it wouldn’t stop United Way from offering volunteer opportunities.

Volunteering in Greater Atlanta is important work—work that is never over. Throughout the week of June 14 – 19, our volunteers will Unite for Service in more than 40 events with over 1,000 volunteers for the purpose of doing more for our communities.

This work is not uncommon for volunteers like Katzenstein who understand how important it is that we address the immediate needs of the community.

“Flexibility is key!” says United Way Director of Volunteerism Brittany Phouangphet. “Our avid volunteers have been integral in ensuring that all of our projects are successful with their contributions. They heighten the experience for the students of Monday Reading Program by providing them with an opportunity to build rapport with a supportive adult, other than their parents and educators, to share a love for reading and their enthusiasm for learning.”

Community volunteers and corporations are always looking for other avenues and ways to support United Way and provide resources to those they serve, Phouangphet says.

“We are all about meeting our schools and partners where they are—whether that means hosting on asynchronous days, supplementing classroom instruction, or bringing donations to campus,” she says. “Though we can’t be in the buildings, we are there on the big screen in classrooms. Our teachers and leaders have been crucial in helping us drive our new method of making an impact.”

Katzenstein liked how United Way zeroed in on which communities they could provide the most impact through its Child Well-Being map. She said she was excited to do this work for that reason.

“I wanted to make an impact on a kid’s life,” she says. “I have two that I tutor one-on-one for about six hours a week, and I feel like I’m actually going to make a difference in their life. I love the looks on their faces and at a certain point they really start loving to read. I wish everybody could read to a kid once a week.”

If you are looking to volunteer and don’t know where to start, it helps to find something you are passionate about, she says.

“Whatever you get enjoyment out of is important,” Katzenstein says. “You can really make a difference for a day, make someone happier and go even bigger.”

United Way’s Volunteerism team continues to meet the ever-changing needs of the partners and the community as a whole. These virtual projects offer a unique ability to connect with our students and families, Phouangphet says.

“By volunteering, you do not just do good, but you feel good,” Phouangphet says. “You’re providing a valuable contribution of your time and talents to support our community. Now more than ever, meeting the needs of our community members is so important—and easy to do through United Way of Greater Atlanta.”

In order to give back through your time and talents, we must Unite for More. Can children, families and Greater Atlanta communities count on you?