A former math teacher, Barry Richards is good with numbers. But the chief operating officer of the Ballard Center’s mind is boggled when he tries to compute how much money Jim Mahoney has saved the center since becoming the organization’s volunteer handyman in 2010.
“The amount is astronomical. Five figures,” Richards says as he rattles off the list of projects big and little that Mahoney has done at the organization’s three sites – Ballard Early Education Learning Center, Mount Hope Learning Center and Penn House — since Mahoney answered the nonprofit’s call for a volunteer to repair some stairs at Penn House.
It took Mahoney a year to finish those stairs. Not because he wasn’t working hard, but because additional maintenance emergencies kept popping up that trumped the stairs repair, liked a backed-up toilet at the Ballard Early Education Center, which is indeed a crisis when you have a class full of potty-training preschoolers. Mahoney’s work is so important to the Ballard Center, which provides educational and support services for families in need, that Richards nominated Mahoney for the United Way Roger Hill Volunteer Center’s Wallace Galluzzi Outstanding Volunteer Award.
Whether it’s patching duct work, building a wall or repairing a leaky faucet, fixing things is just a way of life for Mahoney, a country boy who learned that if you want to keep things running on the farm you need to figure out how to repair them yourself. Through the years, he’s collected an arsenal of tools and the knack for knowing how to use them to keep things in tiptop shape.
He didn’t know how important both would be until he neared retirement from his job as a site risk coordinator for Procter & Gamble. As Mahoney contemplated what he wanted to do with his new free time, fixing things came to mind. So did volunteering for a list of worthy organizations. The two ideas fit together perfectly.
“Lo and behold, it’s something that’s needed in the nonprofit world, somebody to come and do some projects here and there,” says Mahoney, who also volunteers for Lawrence Habitat for Humanity.
Because most of the projects he does involve dangerous tools and lots of mess, Mahoney usually works at the sites after hours. But it’s a treat for him to get to come in when school is in session because if there’s one thing he likes even more than tools, it’s kids.
“They like to come and watch. If it’s OK, and I’m not doing anything dangerous, like I’m gluing something, I might have somebody hold something for me. It’s fun for them and fun for me.”
It’s also been a delight for Mahoney, a lifelong businessman, to observe how efficiently and effectively many nonprofits are run, accomplishing Herculean missions on shoestring budgets.
“I’ve worked in the corporate world for a long, long time, and what amazes me is how much is done by these nonprofit organizations for so little. It’s very refreshing. The Ballard organization helps hundreds of people every day. How do they do that? I don’t have a clue.”
Richards knows. One key component is the support of lots of volunteers, he explains. Ballard uses volunteers to do everything from stocking shelves at its food pantry, which distributed more than 1,000 bags of food in October alone, to reading to children in their education facilities, which serve up to 80 families. Right now, Ballard is eager for volunteers to adopt the nearly 600 families participating in its holiday adoption program and to help sort the hundreds of gifts as they come in.
“You never know what kind of skills you have that could be vital to an organization, like accounting, cooking or reading.” Richards says. “Your special skill set – you may not even think of it as a special skill set – could be vital to any organization.”
To find out about the many volunteer opportunities at the Ballard Center, contact Kyle Rogenkamp at (785) 842-0729 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For Mahoney, becoming a volunteer handyman at Ballard has been a great experience. He’s made lots of new friends and been able to support an organization he believes in. “I get more than I give,” he says.
“He is invaluable to us,” Richards responds. “It would be nice to be able to afford a maintenance man for all three of our locations, but that’s a pricey undertaking. In the nonprofit world, sometimes the finances are not there to finance all the projects you need. He is vital to us.”