Local organizations first to receive volunteer certification

Cori HilsgenNews, St. Joseph0 Comments

by  Cori Hilsgen


Many helping hands are often needed to help agencies accomplish all the goals they set.

Several area agencies, including Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud, CentraCare Health, College of St. Benedict, Ruff Start Rescue, St. Cloud Area School District 742, United Way of Central Minnesota and WACOSA, recently collaborated to train for certification and are now all certified.

The training, which  focuses on best practices in volunteer management, was extensive, and with it came a chance for national certification by Points of Light – a prestigious national non-profit for volunteer engagement.

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud

The St. Cloud organization is the first Catholic Charities in the state to receive the certification.

Steve Pareja, executive director, said in an organizational email that the agency completed the certification to better integrate volunteers in day-to-day operations. By achieving the certification the organization is now better equipped to leverage the time and talent of volunteers and better fulfill its mission of building communities, promoting family life and enhancing human dignity.

Kris Roberts, volunteer coordinator, said the organization wanted to get the right people together to talk about volunteers and their importance to the agency. Service Enterprise provided a way for those passionate about volunteers to come together and work as a team to formulate a more comprehensive plan.

Through the certification, the organization has been able to focus its priorities, as well as realize its volunteer impact and its potential.

“Our staff appreciates the improved organization when bringing a new volunteer to their program,” Roberts said. “We want the volunteers to feel better utilized and know they have a greater impact.”

The agency had 2,246 people volunteer in the past 12 months. Volunteers complete work such as sorting and stocking food and clothing, driving the Mobile Food Shelf, working with clients, cleaning and landscaping, skill-building with young adults, administrative tasks, event planning, Foster Grandparents and delivering Meals on Wheels.

College of St. Benedict

The college is the first college/university in the nation to achieve certification. A team of CSB employees worked toward certification because of the college’s strategic plan and the ways its goals require the assistance of volunteers.

Valerie A. Jones, executive director of alumnae relations, said before the training CSB had no formal or institutional standards for coordinating volunteer efforts. Those who attended training saw limitless ways to engage volunteers locally and worldwide to meet the college’s mission.

“By being the first college or university to be certified as a Service Enterprise, we hope to increase our ability to deliver on our strategic priorities, our impact on higher education for women, and our stewardship of the volunteer resources that help us every day,” Jones said. “We are building a system across our entire campus that will allow for volunteers to engage in meaningful volunteer opportunities, move easily from position to position and help St. Ben(edict)’s achieve the strategic goals we have set out for ourselves.”

CSB engages about 1,200 volunteers in tasks such as community kitchen volunteer, young alumnae president’s circle committee member, varsity athletic assistant coach, tour guide, alumnae board member, alumnae mentor (Bennie mentor program), move-in day volunteer, class representative, reunion class ambassador, campaign volunteer, career exploration panel member, job and internship host site and many more.

Mary Dana Hinton, CSB president, commented about the college becoming a service enterprise.

“…At the College of St. Benedict, we have long relied on the generous service of (more than) 1,000 volunteers…to deliver a high-quality educational experience to all students. Volunteers are already central to our mission and vision to educate women to think critically, lead courageously and advocate passionately. They are essential to recruiting students, mentoring them and welcoming them back to campus as alumnae.”

Hinton continued:

“Service Enterprise has given us the opportunity to better leverage our loving volunteers and their many skills across all levels of the organization,” she said. “Our initial assessment showed pathways toward both immediate and longer-term improvement in the ways we engage, train, manage and evaluate volunteers. And, our work to obtain certification has helped us achieve growth in key areas, including growth in leadership attention to systematically managing volunteers as a key resource of the College of St. Benedict.”

Ruff Start Rescue

Ruff Start Rescue is the first animal welfare organization in Minnesota to receive this distinction.

Jenna Trisko, development director, said Ruff Start Rescue decided to participate in the training because they know the impact of their volunteers.

“We have 600 volunteers and fosters in our organization, and we want to find ways to improve our program,” she said. “We wanted to ensure we are using best practices in the field to offer the best possible volunteer experience.”

Ruff Start Rescue is an animal welfare organization that serves Minnesota. It’s a foster-based rescue that provides refuge and care to at-risk dogs, cats and small critters. The organization collaborates, communicates and educates about the importance of animal rescue and welfare.

Ruff Start Rescue has rescued more than 6,500 animals, educated several thousand children about responsible animal care and provided no-cost spay/neuter services to nearly 800 area owned and feral barn cats since it began in 2010.

About 300 volunteers perform tasks such as administrative work, donations, marketing, social media posting, transporting animals and supplies, helping out at events, coordinating adoptions, vetting of animals, training in foster families and more. About 300 foster families care for rescued animals by providing a loving home for an animal(s) in need until they find their forever adoptive families.

Through the certification, Trisko said they hope to showcase the impact of Ruff Start Rescue’s volunteers and to continue to try to find ways to improve efficiency and create an exceptional volunteer experience.

“I think this experience really highlighted all the intricacies associated with running a successful volunteer program,” Trisko said in a press release. “Service Enterprise has given us the tools to improve our recruitment, retention and recognition efforts, and emphasized the value volunteers bring to the mission and vision of the organization. The impact volunteers make with their skills, talents and passion is powerful and energizing. As an organization, we need to continue to foster these components to continue to promote collaboration, education and friendship.”

“We are so proud to have taken this step to enhance our volunteer program to ensure its sustainability and growth for years to come,” said Azure Davis, executive director, in a press release. ”It’s so incredible to get all of our stakeholders involved to make positive change for the organization and its volunteers. Learning the skills and best practices to improve our volunteer program will continue to fuel our mission and build lasting relationships with these amazing individuals who have made Ruff Start Rescue what it is today.”

St. Cloud Area School District 742

The district is the first school district in Minnesota and one of two districts nationally to receive certification.

A press release from Tami DeLand, director of communications and community engagement, and Sonia Dickrell, volunteer specialist, said they completed more than 20 hours of training, consulting, planning and change to better integrate volunteers in its day-to-day operations. By achieving the level of excellence and certification, the district is now better equipped to leverage the time and talent of volunteers to better meet its mission. The certification recognizes the best practices already in place in the district and allows a framework for the district to build on that success through Service Enterprise.

“Our district depends upon the partnership, goodwill, support and engagement of individuals and organizations throughout our community in order to fulfill its educational mission,” said St. Cloud School Superintendent Willie Jett about the certification. “This recognition illustrates we maintain, but also build upon, the success of our volunteer programs.”

United Way of Central Minnesota

United Way of Central Minnesota was the first United Way in Minnesota to participate in the certification.

Mary Krippner, volunteer engagement coordinator, said they wanted to improve their volunteer program to help accomplish the agency’s mission – reducing costs and increasing efficiency and effectiveness.

The agency improves people’s lives by mobilizing the caring power of Central Minnesota with a focus on homelessness, access to food, financial stability, quality out-of-school time and early learning/early literacy.

With the certification, the agency said it hopes to accomplish consistent volunteer training, including the organization’s mission and values, staff training in regards to volunteer management, and implementation of volunteer evaluations and position descriptions.

Krippner said they have more than 500 internal volunteers who complete a wide variety of tasks such as review funding applications, assist with fundraising, human resources, finances, marketing and more.


WACOSA is the first day program for adults with disabilities in the state to be certified and the second in the nation.

They provide adults with disabilities a chance to work in their local neighborhoods through in-house work at WACOSA, community cleaning crews, production crews and individual placements in local businesses. When paid work is not available, depending on WACOSA’s production load or the individual’s ability level, WACOSA provides educational opportunities to individuals through curriculum.

Andrea Harrell, volunteer and curriculum coordinator, said their volunteer program was having a hard time attracting new volunteers.

“We hoped this certification would breathe new life into our volunteer program and it has,” Harrell said. “At this time last year, we had only four regular volunteers. Going through Service Enterprise has nearly quadrupled our volunteers available to help.”

WACOSA currently has 15 volunteers who come in on a regular, ongoing basis. They also have a few more who are students and are only there for a semester. The organization also takes groups of one-time volunteers to help with internal events, as well as helping them with service projects and hours needed for things like Communion, National Honor Society and businesses wanting to hold service days to give back to their neighborhoods. Most volunteers are either retail assistants, client-services assistants or coffee buddies.

Points of Light created the Service Enterprise Initiative training, which is passed down to mentor organizations that work with local non-profits. The mentor groups, Minnesota Association of Volunteer Administration and HandsOn Twin Cities, guide the certification process in Minnesota.

They provided the initial 16 hours of 2016 training on the 10 main characteristics of planning and development, leadership support, effective training, technology and communication, onboarding and supervision, outreach, resource allocation, tracking and evaluation, partnering to extend outreach and funding. The training took place through Central Minnesota United Way.

Each organization took a test to understand its organization’s strengths and weaknesses in each characteristic. Organizations could then become certified as a Service Enterprise organization.

After completing an action plan that included making changes and enhancements such as adding new recruitment and sustainability strategies, tracking and evaluation software, changing procedures and more, each organization was interviewed extensively by HandsOn Twin Cities. HandsOn records all of the work the organization has done to meet the Service Enterprise Initiative standards. The interview report was then sent to Points of Light for final approval.

The organizations now certified will continue to work on and improve areas of their volunteer programs indefinitely.

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Shannon Lindboe of St. Joseph volunteers her time to present to a group of children on the importance of animal welfare and pet ownership through Ruff Start Rescue’s Children’s Education Program.

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Kennedy Community School volunteer Tim Radunz works with students on reading skills.

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College of St. Benedict students from the Bonner Program clean the Kennedy Community School prairie August 2015.

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The CSB alumnae association board of directors is one of the college’s most active volunteer groups on campus and around the country.





Author: Cori Hilsgen


Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people’s stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.

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