As a result of the wholesome meeting places and benefactoral ethic of Single Volunteers, America will have men and women who have formed meaningful friendships and solid marriages. Equally as important, America will have countless volunteer hours given freely for the betterment of all citizens.
Single Volunteers has grown beyond our American borders, now hosting chapters in Canada and Australia in addition to the US. Additional US and non-US chapters are welcome and encouraged.
Single Volunteers provides singles with a productive way to meet other singles by organizing volunteer activities which groups of singles then perform. The aim of each activity is to have a minimum of 12 single people, ideally an equal number of men and women of similar ages, work in close proximity on a worthwhile project.
A national clearinghouse provides information through mailings to help local chapters get started and through a web site to inform the general public about Single Volunteers and serve as a connection for existing chapters. Single Volunteers also works to broadcast nationwide the basic concept of singles volunteering together in worthwhile projects in hopes that others start a local chapter.
Chapters are self governing and patterned after the needs of their local
community, the supervising agency or organizers which could include a church,
a nonprofit organization or an individual. The national clearinghouse only
provides guidance and the web site and is not responsible for the operations
of a local chapter. Local chapters are encouraged to initially be adopted
by a similarly missioned nonprofit agency and then eventually file for
501(c)3 nonprofit status. Funds generated by modest dues or from fund raising
can pay for a staff person. Single Volunteers is not intended to be a profit
The present way in America to meet other singles is in bars, using dating services or through the personals, all of which can take away a personís self esteem and waste precious time. While volunteerism has been suggested as an acceptable way to meet other singles, too often the volunteer activities are dominated by women or individuals who are married. Churches have also been suggested as a decent way to meet singles, but in many cases the single person is surrounded by happily married couples and children, doubling the hurt and frustration. Friends still introduce friends but many times, the friends just donít happen to know anyone single.
With half of the population divorced, offices discouraging interoffice romances, a disenfranchised telecommunicating population, and the legitimately evolutionary need to couple, a way had to be found to overcome these obstacles. With the national reliance on volunteerism to make up for a growing deficit, Single Volunteers could make two birds live with one stone.
While many similar organizations have formed prior to Single Volunteers, such as Singles Outreach Services in Albany, New York and Professional Volunteer Services in Ann Arbor, Michigan, there hadnít been a nationwide public relations campaign about singles volunteering. Only dating services and the personals offered advertised solutions.
The concept of singles working together crystallized for Single Volunteerís Founder, Anne Lusk on Thanksgiving Day 1995 when she worked in a soup kitchen. She volunteered to feed the homeless and low income individuals in an extremely nice restaurant in Burlington, Vermont. Upon arriving, Lusk was put in charge of the donated coats which in the past had been put on a table in a heap and which then often ended up on the floor. Working with others, she organized the coats as a cross between a Ski and Skate Sale and Saks Fifth Avenue, which would allow the homeless the dignity of selecting a properly sized and nicely hung coat. After the coats were organized that morning, the restaurant operator called together all the people who had worked on that project to say that the coats had never been organized so quickly and everyone could go home. Not wanting to be sent home at 10 in the morning on Thanksgiving Day, Lusk hid. Soon the homeless were allowed in the doors and she became their personal shopper, selecting just the right coat for wear and style. She worked all day with the homeless, oblivious to the others also volunteering. At the end of the day, the restaurant operator closed the doors and spread out a gourmet Thanksgiving banquet for the volunteers. Lusk realized she had been working with a group of single people who were by then exhausted but, on what could have been a lonely holiday, who were also very content.
The more formalized thoughts for Single Volunteers began in the summer of 1996 when Lusk decided to put together a work crew to clean up an old Stowe, Vermont farmstead which the Town had purchased. The Selectmen nixed the idea for liability reasons but in the interim, a list of friends who could volunteer had been created. The volunteers happened to be single and were disappointed to hear the project was canceled. Perhaps they had been salivating over the gourmet picnic promised on the shaded lawn of the white farm house but they were possibly also disappointed to not be able to work with other singles.
Not wanting to let this potential energy escape, Lusk got on the phone to all her friends in the nonprofit sector to see if there might be work for volunteers. She had volunteered in Vermont for the past 20 years, had been Chair of the Vermont Trails and Greenways for 8 years, served on a variety of Gubernatorially appointed boards including the Vermont Board of Forests, Parks and Recreation and had helped start a United Way in Lamoille County. Her Rolodex was packed with potential.
Lusk then set to work on the name. Discarding a variety of options and contacting friends in the public relations and marketing business, Lusk settled on her simple and self explanatory name, "Single Volunteers."
The first project which landed in her lap was Habitat for Humanity. They needed 12 people to put up stud frame interior walls. Lusk then had to scramble to assemble a crew. She had entered an 8 mile road race and prepared a poster for the registration period in hopes that volunteers might sign up. When the race organizers forgot to hang her poster, she had second thoughts and wondered if Single Volunteers was a bad idea. Undaunted, she joined a Vermont dating service so at least she would have a list of single men. The list arrived near the time of the Habitat project but Lusk went down the list anyway, looking for biographies which indicated carpentry skills. Lusk then made cold calls to the men and, thank goodness, the guys were nice and said yes to her request. Luskís daughter teased her and said she was supposed to call up those men and ask if they wanted to have a cup of coffee, not put up walls in a Habitat for Humanity House.
Lusk also sent out News Releases to the Vermont newspapers. A local television station came to cover the Habitat project. With her name and phone number listed, her phone was ringing constantly with volunteers wanting to help. Single Volunteers of Vermont was begun. Lusk was especially gratified because not only did singles like the concept, married people approved and called to offer projects or recommend friends as members.
As membership grew, projects needed to grow also to meet the need of singles wanting to volunteer. For the projects, the requirements were that they had to involve a group. No one was to park a car in a parking lot all by himself or answer a phone alone. Also, there was to be a learning component to each project. While stuffing envelopes was fine, getting a tour of the recycling center with the operations for rebuilding appliances, provided a better awareness of the nonprofit for which you were stuffing envelopes. The Vermont ETV phone-a-thon, for example, took the volunteers on a tour of the back rooms at the ETV station.
When Single Volunteers was started, Lusk was existing on a low budget but she invested her own funds in getting the organization up and running. She knew she could have spent funds to join an expensive dating service but felt postage and phone calls for Single Volunteers was a better investment.
The organization reached a crossroads with the decision to stay nonprofit and not charge a fee upwards of $200 to cover expenses. After polling the membership, it was agreed that Single Volunteers should stay as a volunteer nonprofit without a sizable membership fee. While SV did eventually ask for $15 to help defray costs, that was a donation and not demanded of members. Everyone agreed, if you charge a large sum, it smacks of a dating service which clearly Single Volunteers was not. People should not be asked to pay for the privilege of doing volunteer work.
As a sidebar, it was later learned that Single Outreach Services (SOS) in Albany, New York was a not-for-profit volunteer singles group but not a nonprofit 501(c)3. They only charge $15 for a yearly membership which includes a monthly newsletter, personals, calendar or volunteer projects, etc. They have an advantage though of critical mass. Albany is a large city and they have 4000 members. Their members are charged $3 to $20 for a class and $5 as admission to a dance. With those funds, they can support a staff. In a rural community, there would not be a population base for a large membership. A small communityís only option is to provide some staff and expense money through nonprofit sponsorship. Since Single Volunteers was created to serve rural and urban communities, it was deemed preferable to have Single Volunteers nonprofit. Also, the volunteering opportunity should be provided to all people, regardless of their ability to pay. Mothers with dead beat dads, childcare costs and less salary, should be given the opportunity to join Single Volunteers and perhaps meet a nice someone.
After completing countless projects in Vermont, Lusk started on her mission to get the word out nationwide. She assembled press kits of newspaper articles written about Single Volunteers. A reporter for TIME magazine read the materials and called to do a feature in the Heroes column. That piece was in the Man of the Year issue, December 30, l996. E mails, letter and phone calls started pouring in from people across the country who wanted to form chapters.
Lusk created starter kits and sent them to people wanting to form chapters. By this time she had been contacted by Burlington Community College which offered meeting room space and free use of the copy machine. Lusk paid for the postage and envelopes to send out materials to people across the country.
In Vermont, modest membership fees helped pay for phone calls to members to notify them of upcoming events. Large gatherings of all the members were organized so that members could walk around the room and sign up for projects which appealed to them.
After continued national exposure on TV talk shows, the Boston Globe and countless other newspapers, chapters were started in Texas, Ohio, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. Originally, Texas had the largest chapter with 700 members but this was quickly surpassed with the web wizardry of Dana Kressierer in Washington, D. C. Her Single Volunteer group now boasts 6500 members and her efforts have been applauded in People magazine, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, to name a few.
Eventually Lusk decided to get her Ph.D. in Architecture at the University of Michigan. She organized all of the papers for the Vermont organization and gave the material to Vermont members but those who took over were not able to carry the torch and the group eventually folded.
Lusk did though take the papers for the Single Volunteers National Clearinghouse
to Michigan and in between studying, she continues to encourage the creation
of new chapters. With the recent mention in Good Housekeeping and the New
York Times, she has been busy sending out materials. Dana Kressierer manages
the web connections admirably and has helped groups form in such cities
as New York, with others showing promise in Chicago and Boston. Kressierer
also continues to gain national attention which is the mission of Single
Volunteers. Other veteran chapter leaders such as Pat Percival in Ohio,
Nancy Ballard in Texas and Andrew Smith in western Massachusetts continue
to encourage others to follow their lead.