Volunteering at Handi-Crafters an ‘Eye-Opening’ Experience for Employees of Several Local Businesses

Images via Handi-Crafters.

Employees from a number of area businesses continue to return to Handi-Crafters to volunteer for a variety of projects. They find that the experience of partnering with the nonprofit’s clients to help them meet production goals has meaningful benefits for not only the clients, but also themselves.

Handi-Crafters runs one of the largest employment and support service programs in southeastern Pennsylvania. Throughout the huge production facility on its campus in Thorndale, individuals with developmental and physical disabilities make up a talented and empowered workforce. The time and talents of volunteers, however, are crucial to support the mission of the organization in providing meaningful work that gives individuals with special needs a purpose.

“Our volunteering program has really taken off,” said April Ennis-Pierson, Director of Development at Handi-Crafters. “It’s nice to see folks come in and appreciate and enjoy themselves. And they learn a lot, not only about working side-by-side with a person who is differently-abled, but they are also learning about Handi-Crafters. Seeing our infrastructure from the inside is really eye-opening for them.”

One of those volunteers who has visited the facility on multiple occasions is Jacquelyn Robinson, a Global Business Coordinator at SAP in Newtown Square.

“SAP has a huge push to volunteer,” she said. “They put volunteer opportunities on the portal and expect people to sign up.”

On a recent, company-paid volunteer day, Robinson was joined by four of her colleagues at SAP to help with one of the many projects that socially conscious businesses outsource to Handi-Crafters.

“They usually divide us and put us into different stations,” said Robinson. “You just go and sit next to the people who work there and do the same thing they are doing. In this case, they were putting together cans of putty in an assembly-line process. You put the putty in the can, weigh the can, someone puts stickers on it, and they move it along.”

The idea of working and interacting with the clients is a special component of the volunteering experience at Handi-Crafters.

“They all want to talk to you; they all want to hug you,” said Robinson. “They are happy to share whatever is going on in their lives.”

Lyssa Ewing, an Actuarial Associate at Venerable Insurance and Annuity Company in West Chester, has volunteered with her team at Handi-Crafters on five occasions over the past year.

“We all had an amazing experience and fell in love with the organization the first time,” Ewing said. “What’s nice is that unlike other volunteer opportunities, Hand-Crafters gives you the opportunity to work directly with the population you’re serving. That makes it so much more of a meaningful experience.”

Each year, Venerable employees like Ewing are given 40 hours of paid volunteer time, a full week throughout the year to donate their time. Last year, when she was looking for a new volunteering opportunity, she saw an Internet posting from Hand-Crafters and reached out to Ennis-Pierson.

“We have done things from packaging bags of chips to assembling electronic cases and shoeshine kits,” said Ewing. “We work alongside the clients and talk about what’s going on in their lives and their hobbies, while trying to help them out in getting their tasks done. From my experience, the clients all have smiles on their faces when you show up. They really are so appreciative of anyone coming there. Many of the clients come up to me and thank me for being there, and it really makes you feel good.”

For the clients, that personal interaction with volunteers helps them gain more of an understanding of life and the possibilities beyond the campus grounds.

“Part of our organization’s priority is that we are always looking for exposure for our clients to broaden their horizons,” said Ennis-Pierson. “When someone comes in and talks about what their company does, that gives our clients an understanding and allows them to look at their future and get to know what’s out there.”

Helping the workforce complete tasks, being appreciated for their efforts, and the rewarding interaction with clients contributes to a win-win situation for corporate volunteers. It is a unique experience that keeps teams of volunteers coming back to Handi-Crafters.

“Personally, I go back for the clients,” said Ewing. “They are just so happy and optimistic and resilient, and as much as I value my time in getting to know them, they make it known that they feel the same way. Every time I go there, I leave with a smile, wanting to come back.”

For more information on volunteering at Handi-Crafters, contact April Ennis-Pierson at 610-384-6990.

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