By Lance Chilton
Do you want to count bicycles and pedestrians on Albuquerque’s Bike to Wherever Day? Sort donated books with Read to Me? Guide seventh-graders around the Albuquerque Museum? Participate in an internship within the city’s Office of Equity and Inclusion?
These are just a few of many volunteering opportunities listed and facilitated through Albuquerque’s relatively new One Albuquerque: Volunteers program. There are about 350 possibilities listed on the office’s website, https://www.cabq.gov/abq-volunteers, ranging alphabetically from A Light in the Night (taking emergency survival items to the homeless community) to Young Children’s Health Center (coordinated medical care for Albuquerque children, especially in the International District). Some opportunities are with city agencies; others are with non-profits which have registered on the site.
Nick Vottero, who runs the program as the city’s Civic Engagement Coordinator, says that it helps “build a civic space where we can aggregate and leverage our human capital across neighborhoods, industries, and interests to promote city-wide engagement and collective problem solving.” More simply, the website states “Do you dream of a better Albuquerque? You’re in the right place.” Mr. Vottero’s term in office began with a bang in the week of the volunteer-intense Senior Games in June 2019, and is reacting gamely to the world-wide thud of the pandemic. Mr. Vottero notes that volunteer work for city government in a usual year amounts to the equivalent of 129 full-time employees; during the pandemic, such efforts will have been reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the tune of roughly $2 million, to the benefit of all of us.
Volunteers can sign up for one-time short-term gigs like the bicyclist count or long-term engagements such as being a docent at the Albuquerque Museum. They can be young (Mr. Vottero points out that 12- year olds basically run the city library’s summer program of reading to younger children) or elderly (the office has sought information about enrolling older people who are not as confident as their grandchildren in use of the volunteer office’s website) or anywhere in between. The office plans to set up kiosks soliciting volunteers at events at senior centers, community centers, and other city events.
The website touts the advantages of volunteering for young people to include resume-building and making contacts. Mr. Vottero notes, for example, that young volunteers in the city’s Department of Finance and Administration have moved seamlessly into full-time positions there.
When asked what might be impediments to volunteering (about 15,000 Albuquerqueans are registered volunteers, but that means that about 900,000 are not), Mr. Vottero cites the following: 1) unfamiliarity with the technology for signing up, 2) socioeconomic stresses making it impossible to take unpaid work, 3) single-parent families only able to take opportunities that involve the whole family at once, 4) lack of awareness of the need and opportunity, 5) technology causing people to be more inwardly-directed rather than reaching out, and 6) community involvements that aren’t officially counted but nevertheless improve the vibrancy of the city.
Along with going to the website, you can call the city’s Community Contact Center, 311. 311 agents have been trained in matching volunteers with opportunities; they can also engage the volunteer office in widening those matching efforts.
Mr. Vottero points out that Mayor Tim Keller and his wife Elizabeth Kistin Keller have been instrumental in establishing and supporting the new office; he says that he and the mayor or first lady met weekly at the beginning of his time there to design the project, which he summarizes as “a modern approach to empowering folks.”