Thursday, September 18, 2014

‘I always knew that I wanted to help people’

By BOBBY BURCH, Herald Staff Writer | 4/22/2013

[Editor’s note: To help celebrate National Volunteer Week, The Herald and the Ottawa Volunteer Center are recognizing four Franklin County volunteers and their contributions to the community.]

Helping others was always part of Alyssa Miller’s career goals.

[Editor’s note: To help celebrate National Volunteer Week, The Herald and the Ottawa Volunteer Center are recognizing four Franklin County volunteers and their contributions to the community.]

Helping others was always part of Alyssa Miller’s career goals.

The difficult question, the Ottawa University junior said, was simply how she’d go about it.

“When I went to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to major in,” Miller, Ottawa, said, “but I always knew that I wanted to help people.”

A 2010 Ottawa High School graduate, Miller’s benevolent spirit recently melded with her academic pursuits at OU, she said, after enrolling in a class geared toward community service. In August 2012, the class paired Miller with Hope House, a Franklin County food pantry, where she quickly developed an affinity for the organization that endured after the semester’s end. When first arriving for her volunteer position, however, Miller learned more of the wide scope of the organization.

 “I had heard of Hope House, but I didn’t know how many services they offered,” Miller said. “I thought it was a place for people to come in to get food every once in a while and I didn’t understand the make-up of the organization. It definitely helps a lot of people.”

Since 1990, Hope House has served Franklin County residents with emergency relief through physical and spiritual assistance. A nonprofit, Christian-centered group, Hope House works with local church, city and county organizations to provide a clothing and food pantry, emergency loans for rent or utilities, various household items and much more, Miller said. In 2010, Hope House assisted more than 3,000 households or about 11,000 people in the Franklin County community, its website reads.

With Hope House, Miller served a variety of roles, including as a surveyor of clients’ needs and experience with the organization. Her enthusiasm in dealing with clients provided Hope House valuable feedback, one organization official said.

“Alyssa was always willing to do anything we asked,” Mary Lois Yates, Hope House coordinator, said. “Her interaction with our clients was a real contribution to our services. ... She went beyond the call of duty.”

In addition to her direct work with clients, Miller also assisted Hope House in its management of client records, as well as its reach into the community. Miller recommended to the Hope House board that the organization buy computers to digitally file its clients’ information in a database, she said. To acquire the computers, Miller said, Hope House applied for and received a $1,500 Walmart Foundation grant.

“The filing system at Hope House is pretty outdated,” Miller said, adding that the new database will replace years of information in file cabinets. “So I brought an idea to the board to try to get a grant for computers and a database program to put all the clients on a database so everything will be organized, and when people come in, their information will be right there. We don’t have to worry about losing anything, and it’s way more confidential and helpful to them and their services. ... It’s definitely helped a lot.”

Miller also entered the organization into the realm of social media, she said. Since making a Facebook page for Hope House, Miller said, she’s noticed the organization become more relevant to Franklin County residents.

“It’s kind of a way for the community to get involved with Hope House and to see what’s going on with it,” Miller said, adding that local businesses and residents have “liked” the page. “They’ll write on there and say ‘Hey, can you guys use a couple of turkeys this week. Somebody’s donated some canned food, would you want us to bring that by,’ and stuff like that. It lets people know that we need the stuff and we can communicate with them on how to get it to us, and how to get it to the people that need it.”

Miller said she’s pleased to have worked with Hope House, as the experience has solidified her plans to work in human services. Volunteering in general, Miller said, also is a great avenue to express anyone’s talents.

“God has given us different desires and gifts and we might be blessed in different ways either financially or with a skill of a certain kind,” she said. “I think that it’s important that we offer that to those who need it, and that we share those gifts with other people.”

Miller, who was a standout, multi-sport athlete at OHS, also is a center-fielder for the OU softball team. As a softball chaplain, Miller acts as spiritual guide for her teammates, leading the squad in pregame prayers.

The Ottawa Volunteer Center is planning a workshop on organizing volunteers 1:30 p.m. Thursday at the ECKAN Conference Room, 1320 S. Ash St., Ottawa., as well as a luncheon celebrating local volunteers 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday at Washburn Towers, 526 S. Main St., Ottawa.

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