The Power of Volunteers: United Way’s Best of 2018

This month, we’re looking back on the best of 2018: the moments that helped define the year’s successes, the ways we engage with our community, and the most significant impact seen this year. Each week, we’ll be taking a dive into an area of our work that has set this year apart. Today is all about the power of volunteers.

Engaging Everywhere

2018 was a red letter year for volunteering with United Way. From the beginning of July to October, we engaged more than 2,000 volunteers. That’s almost half the number for the entirety of our last fiscal year.  

It’s a trend we’re pretty proud of.  The more people who give their time, the more direct impact we can have.  And the happier our volunteers, the more likely they are to return, turning the gift of their time into an annuity that sustains us into the future. 

To ensure that our volunteers are happy, we ask them to help us shape volunteer projects and events – from the design phase forward – that align with their values and make use of their unique experiences.   For many, this means skills-based volunteering: using their real-world knowledge and expertise to solve specific problems. For some, the focus area is more important – if they are passionate about youth development, we provide opportunities to directly impact youth in ways that will resonate for a lifetime.  Often, it’s a combination of the two, which is how programs like STEM field trips and Youth Venture mentorship programs are born.   In return, volunteers show up.  In force.  To help families and young children and new babies.  To make our community stronger.  We couldn’t do what we do without them. 

Below, find out what we think were the top 5 volunteer moments of 2018.

Thanksgiving Project

The Thanksgiving project, which has become the event by which all others are judged, continues to exceed expectations:

  • More than 1,100 volunteers were involved across 16 sites in Greater Boston
  • Our volunteers distributed more than 165,000 pounds of food to more than 28,000 people
  • Volunteers and their families spent four days and nights packing the more than 7,000 Thanksgiving meal kits that were distributed on Saturday, November 17

We’ve got a more detailed rundown of the event in our Newsroom. Click here to read all about it.

Greater Boston Project Connect

Though relatively new, Project Connect is already making a big difference for families in our community:

  • In only its second year, Project Connect engaged more than 150 volunteers
  • 66 different service providers from banks, healthcare providers, educators, and housing organizations volunteered their time and services
  • More than 180 families in transition received services that will help them get back on their feet

Learn more about Greater Boston Project Connect

Community Baby Shower

Now in its eighth year, the Community Baby Shower is becoming one of our most popular events, due in large part to all the ground it covers. Volunteers come to help with childcare, to pass on their parenting knowledge to new parents, to give some relief to families struggling to make ends meet, and so much more.

  • This year, volunteers helped almost 300 parents connect with vital resources including maternal and early childhood health services
  • We passed out hundreds of early childhood care packages with necessities like diapers, formula, educational materials, and more


Though not technically an event, DRIVE is a great example of skills-based volunteering.  The DRIVE initiative, powered by the Private Equity and Venture Capital industry, leverages the power of data and the energy of volunteers and professional caregivers to ensure all children are on track to get the most out of their education.

  • With the help of volunteer parents screeners, DRIVE has collected developmental screening data from over 6,200 children ages 0-5 since 2014
  • With the help of 25 early-education and community organizations across 60 locations, we’re creating a network for collecting and studying all the screening data we collect

For more information about the DRIVE program, click here.

Greater Lawrence Disaster Relief

When gas lines burst beneath Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover, more than 30,000 people were displaced. United Way was part of the effort that brought relief to all those affected and we worked alongside partner agencies to address the immediate needs the community faced.

Hundreds of volunteers from organizations across the region — United Way included — came to Greater Lawrence to help rebuild. Together, we provided food, help staying warm, and help maintaining many of life’s small but important necessities.  Support is ongoing as the winter closes in, and United Way remains involved, almost three months after the initial disaster

To get a deeper sense of our involvement in Greater Lawrence, click here.

For a thorough explanation of how United Way responds to disasters, click here.

The Foundation

Volunteers are an important part of the foundation that makes our work possible. There is no world where we could do what we do without them. Through working with us, our volunteers are on the ground, making an impact and seeing it up close as it happens. We know that our volunteers are as dedicated and enthusiastic about making positive change as we are, and that spurs us on in our efforts to create a better life for people in need.