Our Town draws record volunteers
THOUSANDS of people wearing green T-shirts filled the streets of cities and towns across Slovakia on June 15 and 16.
THOUSANDS of people wearing green T-shirts filled the streets of cities and towns across Slovakia on June 15 and 16. Even though these volunteers may not have worked for the same company or belonged to the same group, they were all united in a single principle: to do a good deed and help people and organisations in their communities that could use a hand. This year around 5,000 volunteers from 80 companies and organisations participated in various activities prepared by 152 non-profit organisations as part of the Naše Mesto project organised by the Pontis Foundation.
“Many organisations traditionally apply for help with various kinds of activities,” Petra Nagyová, PR manager of the Pontis Foundation, told The Slovak Spectator, adding that these were in areas such as helping in facilities for senior citizens, students or handicapped people. The need for a helping hand was confirmed by Milena Partelová, headmistress of the primary and nursery schools on Sibírska Street in Bratislava, who asked for Naše Mesto volunteers for a second year. She said her school often has a problem in keeping up with all the work required around the schoolyard and school building because they have only one full-time janitor and one part-time gardener and the help she received from the volunteers was very welcomed.
She told The Slovak Spectator that she viewed the Naše Mesto programme as something that strengthens relationships among people as well as getting particular tasks done. “We do not see it only about what they [volunteers] do but we also get to know other people who do not [directly] belong to our community,” she stated, noting that she liked that all the volunteers wore the same kind of T-shirt.
Volunteering on the rise
“Several managers have found out that it [Naše Mesto] is an interesting form of teambuilding in which employees use their abilities and get a chance to develop new skills,” Nagyová told The Slovak Spectator. Several companies in Slovakia started volunteering programmes in 2005 and 2006 when employees of Západoslovenská energetika (ZSE), Slovak Telekom, T-Mobile, Hewlett-Packard and Provident Financial helped to clear and replant trees in the High Tatras after a huge windstorm damaged many forested areas in November 2004. This initiative launched a series of activities among foreign-based companies at first, joined soon thereafter by Slovak-based companies. The Pontis Foundation then established a network called Engage, which brought together companies active in corporate social responsibility activities as well as in voluntary efforts and the network developed the idea of an annual event called Naše Mesto in which employees of companies could help others in their community who are in need, Nagyová said.
In the first year of 2007 only about 400 employees from 20 companies participated in Naše Mesto while this year the number of volunteers was around 5,000 and they came from 80 companies. “The motivation for companies and their employees to join in the volunteering is primarily the desire to help,” Nagyová told The Slovak Spectator. She added that according to a survey conducted by the Pontis Foundation in cooperation with the University of Economics in Bratislava, 73 percent of those interviewed saw volunteering as a kind of teambuilding activity as well as part of responsible business and corporate philanthropy. “Volunteering by employees is a common practice abroad and many employers take volunteering experience into consideration,” she stated, adding that the employers prefer volunteer activities which “develop vigorousness, humanity, good feelings, meaningful experience, loyalty and team work”.
She added that popular activities are those which can be done outdoors as a break from the routine of work inside offices and behind a computer. Common jobs for volunteers are things like painting fences, repairing damaged equipment at children’s playgrounds or tidying up schoolyards and other public spaces. Several new tasks were available to volunteers this year such as cleaning up areas around the Maly Dunaj (Small Danube), a tributary of the Danube River, and the Pečniansky wetland forest in the Petrzalka district of Bratislava as well as doing renovation work at the Lietava and Lednica castles. The press release of the Pontis Foundation also said volunteers helped in building a new kunsthalle, or art gallery, in Žilina. Nagyová added that another novelty this year was a special programme in which a bus carried willing volunteers to an unknown place where they performed their good deeds. People volunteering in the High Tatras participated in three activities focused on enhancing the environment of the mountains, the TASR newswire reported. One group helped in repairing the terrain and fixing a memorial to Mathias Loysh, the founder of Tatranské Matliare village, the second worked on removing fallen branches on a tourist trail between Hrebienok and Sliezsky dom, and the third group planted small pine trees in Tatranská Lomnica, the TASR newswire wrote.
Volunteers worked at 280 different locations across the country, in bigger cities as well as in smaller towns and villages this year, Nagyová told The Slovak Spectator. When asked about the plans for the future, she said that the Pontis Foundation would like to spread the volunteer activities to more towns in Slovakia. She added that the foundations cannot do this without “the initiative and involvement of companies which are willing to help local organisations”. “In upcoming years we would also like to strengthen cooperation with towns – so they will not only suggest activities for volunteers but that the town’s employees will join in as well,” Nagyová stated.