Colleen O'Toole: Volunteers' most FAQ might surprise you

Most FAQ? "When can I come back?"

That's according to Volunteer Program Manager Colleen O'Toole. Colleen has been with The ReStore for a little over 6 years. She was initially hired as volunteer coordinator at the Washington County ReStore, but took on an expanded role for all four locations (Gresham ReStore opening soon) almost two years ago.

Colleen grew up in Michigan and earned a double degree in sociology and religious studies from Alma College. She spent a lot of time in the Gulf Coast - New Orleans and other areas providing disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and running a volunteer camp there through the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in 2008 and 2010.

"We hosted up to 90 people overnight for a week at a time," she recalls. "Could be anywhere from 20 to 90 people depending on the week. People from across the country would come down and stay, and then they would work with an organization called Project Homecoming to go out and do critical home repairs and remodeling."

Colleen and wife, Kelsey, regularly foster dogs, pregnant cats and kittens. As part of the Underdog Railroad Rescue, they care for dogs transported up to Oregon from a California euthanasia list, helping to find the animals a permanent home.

Her current household includes her two dogs (Betty and Lily), four cats (Rose, Fern, Gabe and Tufty), and foster pig Paisley. She sometimes brings her foster animals in to the office to get them socialized - dogs, not Paisley the pig.

Colleen also volunteers for an organization that helps children that have been victims of abuse, serving as a big buddy at summer camps and other events.

About a year and a half ago Colleen and Kelsey purchased their first home in Southeast Portland.

"I still think that the first two weeks of work we did were the best because our house was super ugly when we got it," she claims. "So we redid 80 percent of the trim--everything that you can see when you actually walk into any of the common areas. And I think that looks really nice."

Of course, they shopped The ReStore for the best value for appliances and building materials. She said they spent under $200 for a house worth of no or low-VOC paint.
 

RESTORE VOLUNTEERS

As Colleen reaches out to engage potential volunteers, she finds though many recognize the Habitat name, they don’t always know the ins and outs of The ReStore.

 “A lot of people expect that we are just there for people in our program, but you know I think people don't know enough about the fact that we are open to the public, or that we divert materials from the landfill and that we make things affordable--more than just building houses, [though] that's our pride and joy.”

This past fiscal year, over 1,000 volunteers clocked over 61,400 hours at The ReStore. Colleen is working hard to grow that number to 2,000 volunteers and 75,000 hours…and beyond. With our fourth ReStore opening soon, she's putting her focus on churches, schools, existing community groups and businesses in the Gresham area.

"A lot of people, especially at the beginning phases of the store, are interested in the setup-- which is great," she says. "We get a lot of project people for that. But something that is really important for us as we move toward opening a store is retaining some of those folks through the opening as we get our feet on the ground so we can make sure we have people around who know what things are supposed to look like, how things are supposed to work, and can help us answer those questions for the first couple of months of customers."

Many of the local Habitat for Humanity homeowners complete about 30% of their required sweat equity hours at The ReStore. As of this month, those families will be able to volunteer at the Gresham ReStore, too.
 

REGISTER

Whether you are a Habitat homeowner or an individual, registering to volunteer online at pdxrestore.org/volunteer is super easy and convenient. Here's how:

1) Go to pdxrestore.org/volunteer

2) Fill out the online form

3) Choose an orientation or first shift

4) You'll receive a confirmation

5) Show up at the appointed time

 

ORIENTATION

During your 30-40 minute orientation, or first shift, you will watch a safety video and receive a volunteer packet with a waiver included. Sign the waiver then you can schedule your shifts online any time whether it is for one-time only, or a regular shift*.

During the week, shifts are five hours long; on weekends a shift is four hours long. If you want to do a team project, email Colleen at volunteer@pdxrestore.org. Only individuals may register online; group events must be planned through Colleen.
 

WHAT TO EXPECT

There are all sorts of job duties for volunteers at The ReStore, Colleen says. That includes, but is not limited to: receiving donations, sorting and pricing stock, merchandising (organizing and making things look appealing and accessible to customers), loading and unloading vehicles, checking paint, or doing DIY projects.

"We always talk about it in the orientation and ask folks if they're interested in anything in particular, to let us know, especially in their first shift everybody will do the general stuff at first, but if you have a specific interest, we will nurture that as we move forward," Colleen explained.

Volunteer opportunities are also available in Outreach, Salvage Service and Donation Pickup.
 

SURPRISE!

Colleen says volunteers are often surprised by how friendly ReStore customers are. There are a lot of regulars who know staff by name and enjoy joking around.

"It's a pretty fun place to be," Colleen adds. "A lot of time people think it's just a lot of moving stuff around, but it's a lot more fun than that, a lot more...community."

So, there it is. Why should you volunteer at The ReStore?

"People enjoy their jobs," Colleen explains. "It's a good balance between work and fun, which I think is unique. A lot of the folks that come in as employees or through job training programs don't want to leave when they realize how fun it can be. No two days are ever the same--which is surprising for a lot of people."

It's no wonder one of the most frequently asked questions by volunteers at The ReStore is, "When can I come back?" When they ask that question, Colleen is not surprised.

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FIND OUT MORE:

*You have to be 16 years old to volunteer at The ReStore. A parent's signature is required for volunteers 16-17 years of age. Typically volunteer shifts are from 9am-2pm and 2pm-7pm, but we can work with an alternative school if a high school student wishes to volunteer after school.

VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES
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Salvage Service
Donation Pickup

 

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