On a chilly Saturday afternoon, hundreds of 20- and 30-somethings are taking a load off with pints of beer and slices of pizza at Peabody Heights Brewery near Waverly. Holiday-sweatered and rosy-cheeked, they all carry a glow about them, which makes sense, since they just finished a morning of do-gooding at The Salvation Army as part of Volunteering Untapped (VU).
“It’s a pretty fantastic concept,” says volunteer Matthew Riggin. “You get to connect with a new nonprofit every month, help out the city, and meet a ton of great folks. Not to mention the beer is pretty good.”
Whether its members are planting trees and rain gardens, cleaning up parks and playgrounds, or playing with city youth, VU is a volunteer-based nonprofit that hosts monthly events across the city. But unlike other programs, the key to VU’s success is that it mixes the civic with the social by hosting after-parties at local bars and breweries.
“We’re trying to create an opportunity for people to connect not just with local nonprofits but like-minded peers,” says board chair Teddy Davidson. “It’s a great opportunity for them to talk and network, while doing good for Baltimore.” Adds Seth Franz, founder and executive director. “We want to change the way young people think about volunteering. We want to be a launch pad for lifelong civic engagement.”
In three years, VU has drawn thousands of volunteers to dozens of organizations like the Baltimore Community ToolBank, Blue Water Baltimore, Habitat for Humanity, and Moveable Feast. To date, they have planted 500 trees, removed more than 50,000 pounds of trash, and dedicated 10,000-plus hours of community service in Baltimore. Their free events sell out in minutes, and not just because of the booze.
“I met some of my best friends here,” says volunteer Alexis Blair. “It’s easy to make strong relationships. That’s what keeps people coming back.”
Don’t miss VU’s anniversary event at Columbus Center on February 11 with Rep. Elijah Cummings.