The Middleburg Humane Foundation’s thriving volunteer base understands the rewards of their work
The Middleburg Humane Foundation (MHF), located in Marshall, Virginia, arose from modest beginnings. Launched in December, 1987, as Scruffy’s Ice Cream Parlor in Middleburg to gain community support for a shelter and to begin raising funds for the Middleburg Humane Foundation, today the foundation boasts over 300 volunteers who are all coordinated by former volunteer herself, McCauley Alexiou.
Alexiou became part of the MHF family because of a case in 2015 that resulted in over a hundred Cavalier King Charles Spaniels being rescued from a neglectful owner. “The Middleburg Humane Foundation put out a call for volunteers to help care for the rescued dogs. My mother saw it, and since we lived nearby and have always had dogs we decided to volunteer,” says Alexiou. She began volunteering about three times a week until she was offered a job in animal care. A month later MHF offered her a new position and she transitioned into the volunteer coordinator position.
Working with volunteers has its challenges, but Alexiou is amazed with the giving nature of everyone she works with. “I have no age requirement for volunteers. Children as young as five are welcome to come help. My only requirement is that anyone under the age of 16 be accompanied by an adult,” she clarifies. Her approach to engaging volunteers appears to be working: “Last year we had 251 potential volunteers participate in orientation and had an 84 percent retention rate. Our volunteers stick around.” Alexiou is sure of one thing today: “I have the best volunteers in the world. My volunteers range from age four to 94, and I am thankful for every one of them.” Her volunteers think the same of their coordinator.
The staff and volunteers accomplish many tasks at the foundation: operations, program development, community outreach, and philanthropy initiatives as well as general maintenance, cleaning, and handling of all the animals at the facility. MHF is one of the only large animal rescue groups in our region and serves animals within a 50-mile radius. While paid specialists perform many of the special care responsibilities, the foundation does train select volunteers to handle dogs that require special attention, their “red dogs.” Alexiou explains: “We have a color-coded system here for the animals. Every new animal is assigned as red until we know their temperament. From there they become orange or green. Anyone can work with a green dog. Only volunteers with special training can work with the orange or red dogs.”
Alexiou manages and coordinates her crew of volunteers who walk the dogs, clean and repair the runs, complete shelter chores, care for larger livestock, cuddle kittens, attend outreach events, participate in food drives, and transport animals. Given all that must be accomplished at the foundation, Alexiou is grateful that she is never without a volunteer: “We are very lucky in that we almost always find a volunteer.” MHF can accommodate any volunteer, regardless of ability. Even those with animal allergies are welcome, Alexiou says, adding that they can find something for you in community outreach or another non-animal handling role. There is something for everyone at this thriving volunteer organization.
Volunteering is good for you, as well as the community.
Volunteers have much to gain from their giving. According to Dan Buettner, New York Times bestselling author, “Altruism stimulates the same neural pathways as sugar and cocaine do. But unlike drugs, volunteering is a healthy addiction. People who volunteer tend to lose weight, have lower rates of heart disease, and report higher levels of happiness.” Lynn Lauritzen, Volunteer Center Manager at PATH Foundation, agrees with Buettner: “I often hear from volunteers that they leave their volunteer jobs feeling they got more than they gave.”
The community at large benefits immensely from volunteers as well. “The value of volunteering in a community is an intrinsic one. Its true impact cannot be replicated by paid staff and its value should not be measured in terms of money. Every act of volunteerism, from those in large scale roles to small, spontaneous acts of kindness, binds a community together. In every vibrant and self-reliant society, you will find a strong foundation of an engaged volunteer community,” says Lauritzen.
Alexiou, who has always loved animals, is looking forward to bringing home her newest friend, a bull mastiff mix. “He is being tested for allergies, but once that is resolved, I will adopt him.” The volunteers and staff often find themselves going home with one of their rescued animals; this is one of the reasons the foster program is growing.
With the season of giving upon us, readers are encouraged to find an organization that speaks to their heart and volunteer. Visit the PATH Foundation at letsvolunteer.org to find the right opportunity for you and let us know where it takes you. To learn about Middleburg Humane Foundation volunteer opportunities, visit www.middleburghumane.org/volunteer-opportunities.
Writer’s Note: It’s hard to turn away from MHF without a pet, unless it’s for a quick run to Tractor Supply in Marshall to pick up a crate, which is how our dog Gracie came home to join our family in 2012. Cats Jake and Izzy from MHF came to join the O’Grady clan in 2015.
#Giving Tuesday – November 28, 2017
Giving Tuesday begins the charitable season. Since it began in 2012, this event has become a movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy with events throughout the year. For more information, visit www.givingtuesday.org.