The Value of Volunteers in Anti-Poverty Work


Interfaith Action closed out its Opportunity Saint Paul (OSP) pilot year on July 26 with a learning community event that brought volunteers, staff and nonprofit partners together to share accomplishments, experiences and advice for the future.

Imam Hassan Mohamud welcomed the crowd and talked the importance of interfaith work. The group also heard from Joyce Ester, president of Normandale Community College, who said that the success of her students many years later depends on the kind of work OSP is doing with young children.

OSP works on three levels: It helps increase economic mobility; it activates members of faith communities through transformative volunteer experiences; and, it strengthens congregations by providing a well-supported pathway to engage in effective social justice. Volunteers provide weekly, high-quality tutoring and other supports through seven nonprofit partners who have proven records of impact. This past year, volunteers provided roughly 3,500 hours of tutoring and other service. They also gathered for six learning community events to build understanding of how to effectively reduce poverty.

What we learned in the pilot year

  • Volunteers believe strongly that they had impact through their weekly volunteering. They also said that the learning events both advanced their understanding of poverty and helped them build intergenerational, interfaith relationships. More than half of the 80 first-year volunteers have signed on for year two.
  • Our nonprofit partners said that OSP volunteers were significantly more consistent, committed, helpful and in it for the long-haul. They also said OSP creates efficiencies for their organizations, which strengthens them: wholesale v. retail model. All seven partners have signed on for year two! 

Our call to action for next year

  • Engaging more volunteers of color will be a significant focus for us in the coming year.
  • We want to expand volunteers’ ability to work effectively with children who are dealing with trauma.
  • We are expanding our volunteer base by engaging ten houses of worships to serve as deep partners. Two members of each congregation will recruit a team of at least 10 to build broad investment in OSP as an anchor social justice program/ministry in their communities. Michael Quinn Patton, one of the country’s leading evaluation experts, will closely evaluate the impact of these ten houses of worship and work with our nonprofit partners monthly to build their capacity to measure impact.
  • In addition, we will continue to encourage other houses of worship to provide smaller groups of OSP volunteers. With 700 faith communities in the East Metro area, just think what we can do together!

As we close out this first year, we are grateful to the Saint Paul City Council for its resolution to name Thursday, July 26, 2018, “Interfaith Action” day in recognition of the impact the organization’s Opportunity Saint Paul program had in its pilot year. We also were thrilled to be profiled by the Pioneer Press in this editorial.

If you are individually interested in joining the second year of OSP or if your house of worship wants to join or needs more information, please contact Sarah Peterka.