United Way Launches Volunteer Platform

United Way of 1000 Lakes is excited to launch an online volunteer platform, Bonfire, created with the intention of making it easier for volunteers and organizations to connect with each other. Community members looking to get involved can browse opportunities by skill set, location, cause, and more, allowing potential volunteers to find ways to help in areas that interest them. The platform offers a range of options for individual users and community organizations, allowing volunteers to sign up for specifically scheduled shifts, express interest in flexible opportunities, and track their hours and impact. “We are so excited to be bringing the Bonfire platform to the Itasca area,” says United Way board member and frequent volunteer Christina Monson. “It carries the power of uniting individuals and communities together and igniting a passion for making our communities a better place.”

Early efforts focus on virtual opportunities and COVID-19 response and rebuilding activities, as well as United Way’s Days of Action initiative happening throughout the summer. United Way executive director Kim Brink Smith cites a rise in community need as an impetus behind the launch. “It became clear, with the way the community has been standing up and supporting each other during this time, that there is a lot of generosity in our community – people want to help. This platform should be helpful in efficiently directing volunteer energy where it’s needed most as the community recovers from the effects of the health and economic crisis.”

The pandemic also made it clear that, in order to prioritize health and safety, volunteer projects need to be planned in advance and well-organized. Bonfire allows volunteers to sign up for specific shifts, and makes age and skill requirements clear. Organizations working with volunteers can plan for a specific number and know how much protective equipment is needed and how much space is necessary to keep physical distance between participants.

The portal doesn’t leave out those who need to stay home and protect themselves and their families from virus transmission. Some opportunities consist of completing individual projects at home, such as making masks to be distributed to community members or packing care packages. Other projects can be completed virtually, such as researching community resources for the First Call/211 database.

“The pandemic forced a lot of organizations to adapt to virtual methods of connection,” notes Brink Smith. “For instance, all of our committees are currently meeting virtually, which allows all of us to stay safe while still connecting and sharing ideas.”

One organization piloting the platform is Itasca County Habitat for Humanity, which frequently recruits volunteers to work on home construction sites.

“United Way bringing in this opportunity for area nonprofits is exciting,” says Jamie Mjolsness, Habitat’s executive director. “We look to volunteers every day to further our mission and Bonfire will give us a chance to engage more volunteers, especially those in a younger age demographic.”

Immediate volunteer opportunities include helping out with painting, repairs, and community cleanup in Coleraine; promoting healthy behaviors with Get Fit Itasca; and delivering groceries to older adults. Interested volunteers can visit volunteer.uwlakes.org to create a profile and start discovering opportunities to get involved. Community organizations looking to recruit volunteers and/or track volunteer impact are encouraged to visit volunteer.uwlakes.org/nonprofit to create a free organizational profile and post opportunities, or to reach out to United Way by calling 218-999-7570 or emailing info@uwlakes.org to learn more about partnership.

About Bonfire

Bonfire is a virtual volunteer space that aims to ignite volunteer action in the Itasca area, directing the collective power of those who care about their community to make long-term positive change. The site’s name was inspired by the warmth and communal spirit felt by those gathered around a northern Minnesota fire.