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Nonprofits Benefit When Volunteers Use Their Professional Skills

George Frederick, skills based volunteer
George Frederick volunteers about 25 hours a month writing for Volunteer Alexandria.

As a foreign service officer, George Frederick lived in the Middle East, Africa and other exotic places during his 25-year career. His job was to observe and report what he saw, sometimes several times a day, whether it was groundbreaking or mundane. “You see a lot,” he said.

Often he saw things that he wanted to fix, but as an observer he could not. So he volunteered in his off-duty time to help out in the community where he lived. He sponsored a soccer game for kids in Somalia and volunteered at a refugee camp in Jordan and at an arts school in Cameroon. Although a lot of his work was grassroots, or “church basement” work as he called it, he felt like he was making a difference.

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When he retired in 2013, Frederick, 59, was still troubled by issues that he saw as an observer and was unable to fix. He thought using his career skills in the nonprofit sector could bring him some closure.

Frederick attended a seminar for  RSVP, a Corporation for National and Community Service program that matches job skills of people 55 and older with compatible volunteer work. In January 2014, he was placed with Volunteer Alexandria, the volunteer hub of Alexandria, Va.

It was a perfect match. Marion Brunken, executive director of Volunteer Alexandria, needed someone to write newsletter articles and stories that were informative, brief and interesting. As a foreign service officer, Frederick learned to write quickly and concisely. When Brunken asked Frederick for a writing sample and he completed it before the interview ended, he was hired.

“We are delighted to have George volunteer with us,” Brunken said. “His skills are very valuable and his contributions make a big difference on our newsletter. Offering a variety of volunteer opportunities, like this virtual one, is very important for any nonprofit organization.”

Today Frederick still observes, but for the nonprofit sector. “There aren’t enough men who volunteer,” he noted. “And there is a lot of activity that we as citizens never see that the nonprofit world fills.” He is impressed by the nonprofit sector’s often unseen work — such as emergency preparedness and intervening and protecting endangered children — and by the diversity of citizens who gather to help out.

“Our country is the most important philanthropic country in the world,” Frederick declared. “It’s a very American thing, and one of the most positive things about our country. I don’t think we ring that bell enough. It draws people in and it builds community very quickly. I think that’s a big selling point for us as a nation.”

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Frederick is happy with his new, post-foreign service role. He has the freedom and flexibility to travel as well as time to give back to a worthy cause. “I feel like I’m contributing to Alexandria. That helps me feel useful,” he said. “It still makes me feel creative.”

And he’s open to the next adventure. “The luxury of being an American in the 21st century is that you can redefine yourself.”

Photo: Jane Hess Collins

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