January Volunteer Spotlight: Debbie Barkins

By Amanda Hoffman

The first volunteer spotlight of 2014 belongs to Debbie Barkins, a volunteer at the HOPE Outreach Center. Debbie first got involved with HOPE in her search for a clerical volunteer position. Debbie had a good feeling about HOPE from the very beginning.   “I felt like I was getting involved with a real professional organization, and that I would be part of a team.”

One of the main things that drew Debbie to HOPE, is its ability to help so many different causes and touch the lives of so many different people from a variety of backgrounds and situations. “Its main purpose is to provide people with one time emergency needs such as food, toiletries, etc.,” says Debbie. “Once these people come in, there are case workers available who can help people who  are in unfortunate financial situations get the help they need to get a new start in their lives by assisting them to apply for public services, financial and rent assistance, etc. Also there is help for elderly people, people with disabilities and health issues.”

HOPE has also set up programs to help benefit other members of the community. In the fall, HOPE hosts a Back-to-School drive which donates backpacks and school supplies to students. LEAPS is the Center’s children’s service that provides enrichment activities to elementary school children from low-income families. HOPE also offers a companionship and visitation program which allows volunteers to visit the elderly and homebound. Recently, HOPE wrapped up its Christmas Adopt-a-Family program, which offers, “a way for people to get involved in the community and help needy families get clothes and toys for the children so they can have a joyous holiday.” The data that tracked families in need for the Adopt-a-Family program was logged by none other than Debbie, herself.

HOPE doesn’t focus on one target area of the community in need; instead, its mission is broader as it aims to provide aid to a variety of people and groups. Like the multitasking organization, Debbie has to do a bit of multitasking herself during a typical day at HOPE. “Every Friday, I work at the front desk, greeting people, assisting them with any paperwork that needs to be filled out, and opening up files for new clients. I also pull files of existing clients, copy and fax certain documents to be sent to the proper agencies, and organize the schedule of the people to be seen by the caseworkers,” she says. “Another duty for me is to bag food for clients for emergency needs. On Friday afternoons, and usually at least one day a week, I perform data entry for HOPE Outreach.”

Debbie is inspired by the message and mission of HOPE, but what really keeps her coming back to the organization are the people. “As you can see, I enjoy working in the office.  It gives me a good feeling because I am helping people who really need it, and I am making a difference.  I try to give them the preliminary help they need to get started, but sometimes they just need someone to talk to.”

Debbie knows how quickly a person’s luck can change. “In this day and age there are so many people who have worked very hard in their lives, but then there is that one job layoff, illness, disability, health crisis, and/or some other emergency circumstance, and their lives are adversely changed.  I try to treat these people with the same respect and dignity that I would want to be treated if I was in that same situation.”

Debbie’s advice to the people she interacts with every week at work is this: “Do not give up on [your] dreams because if [you] work really hard, [you] can achieve them, even though it is very difficult.”

Debbie’s advice to new volunteers is this: “Get involved.  You will get a feeling of accomplishment when you help others, and you will feel better about yourself for doing it.  I think there is a place for anyone who wants to help.”

Debbie is a HandsOn Broward Re-engage for Good volunteer. Re-engage for Good (R4G) connects retired and soon-to-retire baby boomers with community organizations in need of their diverse skill sets in Broward County. If you are 55 and older, and are looking for a place to volunteer your skills, experience and talent, please click here.

Thank you for all you do, Debbie!