About Hands On Charlotte

Hands On Charlotte is Your Volunteer Headquarters. Our mission: To inspire, equip and mobilize a diverse corps of volunteers to strengthen our community. Each year, we fulfill this mission by coordinating and facilitating flexible volunteer opportunities for thousands of individuals and corporate groups. As a result, we provide tens of thousands of volunteer hours that help our partner agencies serve their clients better and realize their respective missions.

Two New Reasons to Volunteer

When most people think about volunteering, they think about how it helps improve lives in the community. However, two new research studies underscore the critical role volunteering plays in improving lives…of the volunteers themselves.

A recent study from the University of Iowa College of Public Health, found teenagers who participate in volunteer activities on their own may be less likely to commit crimes as adults. In fact, it showed that teenagers who volunteer had 31 percent fewer arrests and fewer convictions than those who do not volunteer, and the trend continues as they grew older.

Even those who are required to volunteer, rather than choosing to do so, have fewer arrests and convictions as adults than those who did not volunteer in their youth. Why is this?

The researchers suggest that as teens engage in self-empowering activities like volunteering, they develop a sense of moral and social responsibility that deters criminal activity.

Volunteers also gain the upper hand in the job market. According to research commissioned by Oxfam, which relies on volunteers to staff its shops, 80 percent of employers are more likely to hire an applicant with volunteer experience. It turns out bosses think volunteers have better social skills and work harder than other job applicants.

Such employability is part of the reason why effective organizations embrace a culture of philanthropy. Elliott Davis Decosimo fosters a work environment for employees to get involved in their community, whether through a financial donation or volunteer opportunity. Every office connects professional staff members to an organization they are passionate about and encourages them to hold a board seat or leadership role to build professional and community development.

“Our impact reached farther in 2016 than it ever has,” said Richard Battle (Office Managing Shareholder). “Our Charlotte and Raleigh offices volunteered nearly 5,000 hours in their communities as tutors, treasurers, financial coaches and board members. Supporting our communities through United Way’s influence has made a positive impact on our region and also to the important success and development of our people.”

The benefits described in these recent studies compliment earlier studies showing that volunteering is good for physical, mental and emotional health. Carolinas HealthCare System (CHS) has found this to be especially true among physicians battling burnout.

As part of a newly developed wellness curriculum, the Internal Medicine (IM) residency program at Carolinas HealthCare System sought to promote physician well-being and prevent burnout by exploring ways to make community volunteer work more accessible to residents and their already busy schedules.

Shortly after the launch of the curriculum, the IM residency program partnered with United Way of Central Carolinas and Salvation Army’s Center of Hope to bring volunteer opportunities directly to work. During a noon conference lunch hour, CHS residents assembled dozens of “care packs” and “hygiene packages” to be donated to the Center of Hope. Included in these were hand written notes of inspiration directed to the recipients.

“Volunteerism provides an opportunity to impact our community,” said Todd Gandy, chief resident of Internal Medicine at Carolinas HealthCare, “and is also a powerful means to promote wellness and resiliency within our industry.”

Onsite volunteer projects have been adopted by many businesses throughout Charlotte. Hands On Charlotte, the volunteer arm of United Way of Central Carolinas, partners with companies to plan and implement volunteer projects based on their needs.

To help more TIAA employees get involved in supporting local schools, United Way of Central Carolinas recently hosted a Tiny Library build on the TIAA campus. The result: 125 employees were able to help build the libraries in multiple phases throughout the day, while hundreds of others – from various locations across the community – participated in a virtual book drive to fill the libraries with 1,300 new books for nearby CMS schools.

From establishing moral and social responsibility to maintaining a healthy work life balance, volunteerism encourages a positive impact on each individual volunteer.

Published in the Charlotte Business Journal: April 2017


Volunteering for Work Experience

In the world of online webinars and how-to videos, there are many ways to learn new skills and perfect existing ones. The real trick is applying each skill in outlets that show value to future employers.

Skills-based volunteering allows an individual to enhance their resume and make valuable connections in their chosen industry or in a new industry. These experiences help to establish contacts for networking, receive letters of recommendation from professionals in the field and make a substantial contribution to overall job potential.

Here are a few reasons why giving back to the community can enhance a candidate’s professional experience:

Exposes New Career Paths

Skill-based volunteering is a great way to learn more about a specific function or industry, especially if a volunteer is considering developing a new skill, offering a personal skill outside of their career or transitioning to the government or nonprofit sector.

Develops New Skills

When switching careers or climbing the corporate ladder, skill-based volunteering presents opportunities to showcase particular skills that may be a good fit for a new role.

Cultivates a Network

Whether by attending charity events or volunteering time, charitable involvement is a great way to meet new people and expand a professional network. It can be a great way to form a real connection with someone than through a shared passion.

Ways to Get Involved

Many companies across the Charlotte region encourage employees to give back to the community through utilizing their professional skillset.

Beyond Bank of America’s financial partnership with YWCA Central Carolinas, bank employees have advanced the mission through volunteerism with LEAD for Women, the company’s employee network for women. Since 2011, this group of talented women have volunteered monthly to facilitate workshops with the women living in YWCA’s transitional housing programs. Part of this Empowerment Series includes discussions on how to manage finances, how to have healthy boundaries in relationships, and strategies for keeping peace during conflict.

Supportive Housing Communities also host a variety of skill development workshops for their residents such as:

  • Life Skills Workshops (led by Bank of America)
  • Legal Clinic (Bank of America, Merrill Lynch)
  • Computer Skills Classes (Mecklenburg Library -Main Library)

Another approach to skill-based volunteering is mentoring or tutoring. Recently, SunTrust Bank presented a financial literacy group to A Child’s Place K-2 scholars at Ashley Park. ALLY Bank employees mentor residents of Supportive Housing Communities through a Job Readiness Program, which helps individuals create a resume and prepare for a job interview.

However, skill-based volunteering is not just for active professionals. Retirees, who may not be ready to hang their hat after a full career, can volunteer with eager nonprofits in areas such as finance, marketing, consulting, administrative duties and fundraising.

To exercise your expertise, email Doug Macomb at dougm@handsoncharlotte.org.

Published in the Charlotte Business Journal: April 2017


Finding Reward in Getting Uncomfortable

by Gray Davis, a Hands On Charlotte volunteer

In 2010, I was “retired” by the Great Recession when my building industry job disappeared. It’s hard to do nothing and feel good about yourself, so I began volunteering with Second Harvest Food Bank. After a bicycle accident and knee replacement surgery made it unfeasible to continue, I reached out to Hands On Charlotte in search of something new.

Doug Macomb at Hands On Charlotte challenged me to get out of my comfort zone by tutoring kids. I don’t have grandkids, so I wasn’t used to interacting with children anymore. But five months into volunteering, the students enjoy my help and I’m getting as much out of the experience as they are.

In Charlotte, you’re not going to make it without a good education. If you have language barriers, the odds are stacked against you even more. So the Study Buddies program at Learning Help Community Center in south Charlotte helps immigrant and refugee children, particularly from low-income families.

I volunteer two nights a week helping elementary school students with their homework. Some are behind their peers, but they’re very eager to learn – they want to be there.

Others want to get ahead, like a 3rd grader from Cameroon. She’s amazing, speaks both French and English. She’s reading at a 5th grade level, but her parents encourage her to participate to advance further.

Volunteering has really given me a spark. I like the mental exercise, it keeps me sharp. And Hands On Charlotte and the Learning Center are very organized – I’m impressed with their focus and their mission.

At 68, I still have a lot to contribute to this community, and volunteering allows me to do that. Being able to share my knowledge has been extremely rewarding, and I encourage everyone to get out of their comfort zone too.

To learn more about the Study Buddies program or other volunteer opportunities, contact Hands On Charlotte’s Doug Macomb at dougm@handsoncharlotte.org.

Help us shape future projects!

There is no better way to create change than to volunteer right where needs are being served daily. Hands On Charlotte, the volunteer arm of United Way of Central Carolinas, provides group and individual volunteer opportunities across our five-county region. While we already tailor the experience based on availability, skills and interest, we would like to continue to create a diverse calendar of volunteer opportunities just for you!

Throughout the month of May, share, comment, and vote on volunteer projects you would like to see implemented in 2017!

Submit your project idea here.

The top 5 ideas will be featured on our site and the winning participants will receive two tickets to an upcoming Charlotte Knights game.

Let’s get started! Help us choose great volunteer projects!

Turning a Crisis Into New Beginnings

Amir Behani is a Charlotte native, successful entrepreneur, and business owner, working in residential and commercial real estate across the Charlotte area. Over the past seven years, he has been a Hands On Charlotte volunteer and project lead for The Relatives, a United Way agency that helps children and youth find shelter and support. Amir currently lives in Plaza Midwood with his wife and daughter.

Seven years ago, Amir Behani found himself looking for opportunities to give back to the community. The stock market had just crashed and Amir lost everything – his job, his home, his car and a stable income to rely on. With much reflection, Amir concluded that everything happens for a reason, which led him to share his experience of loss to help others reach their next step in life.

Before the market crash, Amir had accomplished the American Dream. At the age of 10, he relocated to Charlotte with his family after living in Iran, India and California. He grew up in SouthPark, attended West Charlotte High School, and became the first student to graduate with three business degrees simultaneously from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

“I chose to attend West Charlotte over Myers Park. In 1994, West Charlotte’s football team was the national champs and it was one of two schools in the Charlotte area with a swimming pool,” recalled Amir. “But the reason I chose to go there and am still proud of that decision was for the diversity.”

Amir felt molded by his experiences living in and learning from other cultures. These life lessons are among the many stories he shares with runaway teens at The Relatives, Charlotte’s crisis shelter for homeless youth.

Each teen carries a different story, different experiences and different burdens. After his first few weeks volunteering and spending time playing games with residents of The Relatives, Amir decided it was time to encourage the residents to use their experiences as a strength and develop self confidence in their situations.

During his next volunteer night at The Relatives, he started the conversation with four questions: “What three things are you good at?” “Give two things you are proud of yourself for accomplishing?” “What’s one thing that makes you weaker and why?” and “What’s one thing that makes you stronger and why?” The answers he received blew him away.

One teen responded, “I feel weaker because whenever I make a grade that is higher than my step-siblings my stepfather hits me.” Another replied, “I feel stronger because seeing my father in jail is my motivation to make the right choices.”

Every week for the past seven years, Amir has continued to ask these questions. He shared that in many ways, the answers each teenager provides are relatable to his own situation and he feels stronger with each conversation.

“My daughter is now two and half years old and I started taking her to my Thursday night sessions about a year ago,” said Amir. “At one of the sessions, a 17-year-old boy, who was staying at The Relatives, brought his seven-month-old son. With both of our children nestled in our arms, we discussed the importance of parenting and being present in your child’s life. Already, his son had become his strength and reason for making the right choices.”

By giving back, Amir turned his crisis into a new beginning. In doing so, he has helped the teens at The Relatives embark on a new path as well.


Published in the Charlotte Business Journal: April 2017


Making a Difference, One Child at a Time

At Hands On Charlotte’s volunteer project, Study Buddies – South Charlotte, kids get to practice their reading skills, they get helped with homework, and they also make connections with others so that they feel supported and empowered to succeed. Learning Help Centers of Charlotte provides one-on-one support for kids in Title 1 schools as well as a place where the kids can make friends with others who share a passion for learning.

Each week, the students begin the evening outside playing soccer and other games, and then they come together inside for a group activity and snack. Volunteers at this project are then paired up with one kid and together they work on homework or reading improvement. One regular volunteer at the project, Gray Davis, says “It is rewarding to see kids have the ‘aha’ moment when they get something that they have been trying to learn.” Gray admits that at first he was reluctant to sign-up for a tutoring project, but now he says “Volunteers should not let their lack of experience with tutoring kids keep them from trying this.”

Each week, regular volunteers are matched up with the same students if possible, which helps the two to work together better. This program strives to make a difference in kids’ academic lives, but it is also about mentoring and connecting with the students. Everyone has something to offer, even if it has been many years since they were in school.

Photo from: http://www.lhcclt.org/

Gen’s Story: Math is Fun!

I sure wish I’d had a math tutor like Gen Mezinskis when I was young. Gen is a Volunteer Leader for HomeWork Hounds at Sugar Creek, and we recently sat down over breakfast to talk.

Gen, short for Genevieve, has been involved with Hands On Charlotte for over 10 years. She was immediately drawn to the flexibility of the program, both with the variety of projects offered and the schedule of times available. In her first year volunteering, she tried a range of activities to see what she liked, including bingo and Special Rollers. She found she was drawn to tutoring, and she became a Volunteer Leader when an opportunity arose the next year. She’s been helping Charlotte-area students ever since.

Gen tutoring a student at Sugar Creek Library

At her project volunteers tutor children who range primarily from kindergarten to 5th grade. The project averages ten to 15 students per session, and Gen tries to ensure one-on-one assistance to the kids whenever possible. The project could always use more volunteers, and Gen recommends it to those looking for a first-time HOC opportunity, provided they like working with kids and are OK helping with homework.

It’s easy to see why the children would be comfortable working with Gen. She’s obviously smart, but manages to explain concepts in very understandable terms. The same children often attend tutoring year after year, a tribute to how valuable they and their parents find the program. As one of the benefits of being a long-time volunteer, Gen says it’s been great to see some of the students grow up through their continued involvement in the program.

For years, Gen was the only Volunteer Leader for the weekly project, and she’s thankful to now have a co-leader. Since she enjoys it so much, she often volunteers even when she’s not leading the event, ever committed to helping kids become more successful in school. Now that she has a co-leader, she says she may even try out some different HOC projects again this year.

I asked the Ohio native how she first became interested in volunteering. She went to a camp earlier in life where she found the counselors to be very helpful, making all the campers feel important and cared for. She wanted to help make others feel the same way, and started volunteering at an early age with projects like being a “candy striper” at a hospital.

As to why she chose to volunteer as a tutor, Gen says she’s always done well with math and science. After attending a week-long computer camp for youths, she was hooked. She earned a college degree in computer engineering, which helps in her role managing consumer data in a marketing department for one of Charlotte’s big banks. If she weren’t working at the bank, Gen would like to create software to help people manage chronic diseases.

I asked Gen what she does for fun when not working or volunteering – it turns out, a lot! She’s an avid runner, now having finished 4 marathons. She did the first with her father, an inspiration – he plans to do a marathon in every state, and is already up to 11. She runs every morning, even in the winter cold. Someday she wants to do a marathon with her father in Hawaii, which sure sounds a lot more pleasant! She’s also a skier. She and her long-term boyfriend have tackled some of the toughest ski mountains out west, though they also enjoy local skiing whenever they get the chance.

Gen’s also a world traveler. She recently went to Italy for two weeks with friends, and got to meet some of her boyfriend’s extended family. She has a brother who lives in Latvia, where her father is originally from, and plans to get back there soon. New Zealand is also on her wish list.

As a fellow Volunteer Leader, I asked Gen for any tips that have helped her long-term success in that role. First, she said, is to make sure the volunteers feel comfortable. Sometimes they aren’t sure how to solve a homework problem, so Gen can help them work out a solution as part of a team effort. Second is to help the students build confidence that they can do the work. Kids will occasionally want the tutor to solve the problems for them, which obviously doesn’t aid the student for the future. By showing they can learn to do it themselves, the kids feel encouraged to tackle more problems on their own. Last, she always asks volunteers for feedback, especially those who are new to HOC. That helps her ensure they’ve had a positive experience, and that she can continue to improve in her role.

As someone for whom math was not their strongest subject, I sure wish I had sought tutoring help from someone knowledgeable when I was young. Lucky for the kids of Charlotte, Gen and the volunteers she leads are there to help. To have a Volunteer Leader as smart, committed and worldly as Gen, Hands On Charlotte is pretty darn lucky, too.

— Ryan Sullivan, Volunteer Leader for Saturday Morning Live

Jacqualyn’s Story – Pet Visits, You Can See the Difference

It takes all kinds to volunteer, to take time from our schedules and give back to others and try to make the world just a little bit better than when we woke up in the morning. In my time with Hands On Charlotte I’ve met volunteers from all walks of life and of all shapes and sizes. However, furry and four legged was a first as I met Dixie the undisputed star of Pet Visits at White Oaks Manor. Dixie and her recently adopted Golden brother named Gabe are gorgeous Golden Retrievers owned by the straight talking Jacqualyn Levin, a Volunteer Leader for White Oaks since August 2015. She actually started volunteering for HOC in Feburary 2014. Jacqualyn is the mother of two very successful daughters and is an avid world traveler. Having visited a host of countries she’s an intelligent and well versed woman. Jacqualyn  explained the details of the White Oak Pet Visits: “It’s hard to get started for some people” she explained, “You go to White Oaks and it can be discouraging. The environment can be a bit depressing.” White Oaks is a skilled nursing facility for the elderly and adults with disabilities. Hands On Charlotte volunteers, along with their well behaved dogs, visit with the residents. It’s an often overlooked population and one in need of positive experiences. “You can see the difference it makes to them. They don’t get a lot of visitors so when we come with the dogs it means a lot.”

Pet Visits Star, Dixie

Jacqualyn explained that she also volunteers at Plantation Estates Assisted Living as well as the Food Bank but considers White Oaks her home project. “The relationship we have with the staff and residents is just great. They know us and we have developed a good relationship with them.” Dixie I’ve been told by numerous sources remains the belle of the ball at White Oaks. A friendly empathetic canine Dixie has learned what each particular resident wants most from a furry visitor.”She knows what to do” Jacqualyn tells me “One resident she just comes up real quick and puts her head and paws on her bed and gets a quick pet. With another it’s something else. Dixie has been doing this for over two years and is a natural.”

In terms of what motivates Jacqualyn to do this project it’s pretty simply explained “Dixie loves it. She gets excited when we turn the corner towards White Oaks. Of course I enjoy meeting all the volunteers and their dogs. I’m not stopping any time soon.” Dixie and Gabe are both rescues from Golden Retriever Rescue of Charlotte or GRRCC, which Jacqualyn is also active with. “GRRCC has a link to HOC on their facebook page in hopes that some Golden owners will see it and consider pet visits with HOC. What should be very appealing for dog owners is that the dogs do not need to be certified therapy dogs.  They just need to be friendly with other dogs and enjoy getting lots and lots of hugs and kisses.

  • Ben Burton is a Hands On Charlotte Volunteer Leader for The Relatives project.

Big News from HOC!

Today, Hands On Charlotte (HOC) is announcing a new collaboration with United Way of Central Carolinas (UWCC). Our two volunteer centers will be combined into a unified resource which will provide you with even more opportunities to address the needs of our community.

The new volunteer center will keep the Hands On Charlotte name and logo. All of our nonprofit partners have been encouraged to continue their current project offerings. Volunteers will still have access to our online calendar of flexible volunteer opportunities, and HOC staff have been offered positions with the new volunteer organization.

By merging our volunteer operations, we will increase the visibility of our volunteers’ fantastic work in our region while becoming even more focused on the meaningful impact we can all have in our neighborhoods.

We anticipate the merger will be complete early next year and we’ll share with you additional details as they are finalized. Thank you!

Yours in service,

Eric Law
Executive Director
Hands On Charlotte

Partner Agency Spotlight: Reaching for the Stars Tutoring Program

Dee Camm is the President and co-founder of The Sky Is the Limit Community Development Corporation. Both Camm and her co-founder, Emanju Zinnah, were working for the City of Charlotte when they created The Sky Is the Limit CDC. Since, furthering education is the goal of the corporation, Camm remarked, “We knew that we wanted to provide high quality tutoring services to the at-risk community free of charge.” The Sky Is the Limit CDC has created a mentoring program, a free tutoring program at two locations, as well as a North Carolina AAU divisional football and cheerleading league.


Dee Camm

Camm explains the mission of The Sky Is the Limit below.

“The Next Generation Mentoring Program connects professional men and women with at risk boys and girls. The mentor provides guidance, career advice, support, and encouragement throughout the duration of the mentoring relationship. The children within this program come from neighborhoods that have a high concentration of violence, teen pregnancy, and high school dropouts.

The Reaching for the Stars Tutoring Program takes place at two free tutoring locations here in Charlotte, NC. The locations were strategically placed in neighborhoods that have a significant amount of at-risk youth. The free tutoring services are provided to grades K – 9 throughout the entire academic year.

For the 2016 academic school year, Reaching for the Stars received a laptop based literacy grant through Habitat for Humanity. The literacy software provides each child with a customizable learning experience based on their current literacy level and learning style.”

Study Buddies West Blvd 2

HOC Volunteer with Reaching for the Stars student

In the early days of The Sky Is the Limit, Camm and her team had already gathered educational resources, such as a laptop-based literacy program and EOG prep curriculum, but what they really needed were volunteers. Thankfully, there was another nonprofit waiting to partner with and support Camm’s fledgling organization. Hands On Charlotte specializes in volunteer recruitment and management for other nonprofits. Camm remarked, “We were in desperate need of volunteers who not only had a desire to make a difference in the community but that also cared about the future of children. After meeting with Doug, the Director of Programs, we immediately knew that Hands On Charlotte was the missing piece to our Charlotte mission.”

Camm is pleased with the work her organization and HOC have accomplished together. “The Hands On Charlotte staff (Doug in particular) is very supportive of our goals, mission, and the overall success of the tutoring program. They have invited me to orientation sessions to allow me to directly recruit volunteers and they always keep the lines of communication open. The volunteers for Study Buddies at West Blvd Library are friendly, professional, and helpful.”

The Sky Is the Limit CDC aims to provide volunteers with the opportunity to make a difference in a community that is in desperate need of their assistance while also having fun. When asked what she wants volunteers to take away from the experience, Camm replied “I want the volunteers to walk away knowing that they made a difference in a child’s academic future. I want them to know that their hours of volunteer work have decreased the dropout rate of an at-risk youth.”

Study Buddies - West Blvd

Reaching for the Stars student with HOC tutor

Camm thinks the best part of her job is making a difference in someone’s life daily, such as hearing reports from parents about their child’s increase in academic and behavioral performance. “Helping people is my calling in life. It’s what I was placed on this earth to accomplish. There is no greater feeling than knowing that you are operating from a higher calling. Attending a graduation, watching a child go from failing to honor roll, putting a smile on the face of those in need…there is no greater feeling than that.”

  • Breannon Wills is an aspiring author and creative enthusiast who hopes to one day start a creative children’s non-profit organization.