CONWAY, S.C. — Aiming to increase community engagement and involve more Myrtle Beach area residents in meaningful ways, Coastal Carolina University has formed StepUp!, an organization designed to recruit and mobilize volunteers, and help them develop ongoing relationships with community nonprofit groups.
Funded by a four-year, $750,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, StepUp! will work with area nonprofit groups to create an effective, efficient volunteer infrastructure that will widen, diversify and promote volunteer opportunities.
StepUp! will coordinate with nonprofit organizations to help them improve their readiness and ability to attract, train and use a strong volunteer base. The initiative will focus on developing a wide range of volunteer opportunities with clearly defined tasks, matching activities with volunteers' skills and offering networking and socializing opportunities. Project coordinators, trained by StepUp!, will be the key contacts, providing volunteers with information about the projects that interest them.
“Coastal Carolina University is especially interested in new ways the university community can contribute to strengthening the entire region,” said Peter Barr, provost of Coastal Carolina University. “StepUp! will build important bridges throughout the community that will ultimately make the area a better place to live, work and visit.”
According to Knight-funded surveys in the Myrtle Beach area, many residents feel their needs are being overshadowed by their rapidly growing community. Forty percent of respondents believe one of the best ways to help their community is by volunteering their time. The surveys also show that the majority of residents believe they can — and will — have an impact on the future of their community.
On average, six out of 10 area respondents volunteer for at least one organization, but the depth of their involvement is limited. StepUp! is designed to help volunteers deepen relationships with nonprofits and become more actively engaged in the community.
“Community residents are the best architects of community change in Myrtle Beach. It is individual people who can make a difference,” said Patricia O'Connor, chair of Knight's community advisory board and executive editor of The Sun News. “Volunteerism is not just an endpoint but a springboard that has the potential to transform the landscape of this community.” Many studies show that volunteerism is one key behavior of the engaged citizen. Other behaviors include voting, donations, activism and community leadership through civic service, such as serving on local boards. Often one of these activities leads to others.
“Increasing community engagement in Myrtle Beach is something Knight's advisory committee felt was important for this city, and the StepUp! initiative is a significant attempt to address that need,” said Michael Maidenberg, Knight Foundation vice president and chief program officer. “The ripple effects of this program will go a long way to help improve Myrtle Beach's overall civic health.”
StepUp! will be administered by executive director Valerie Harrington. She has served as the executive director for CARETEAM, Inc. in Myrtle Beach, and as an independent counselor in the field of sexual assault, teen pregnancy prevention and child abuse. She earned a master's degree in social work from the University of South Carolina. Harrington will be housed in the Coastal Federal Center for Economic and Community Development at Coastal Carolina University.
Coastal Carolina University, founded in 1954, offers educational opportunities to more than 7,200 students. As part of its role as a community leader, the university has adopted several programs to encourage community outreach and volunteerism, such as mentoring in the public schools and placing faculty in the community for semester-long engagement programs. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes journalism excellence worldwide and invests in the vitality of the Myrtle Beach area and 25 other U.S. communities.
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.