Why I volunteer: ‘You always get more than you give’

Melissa Gerhardt

Editor’s note: As part of Xpress’ Spring Nonprofit Issue, we asked residents to send in accounts of their volunteer work with local nonprofits. See all 12 responses in this week’s print edition. 

Melissa Gerhardt is a volunteer with Arms Around ASD, a nonprofit that supports the autism community through self-care and development of executive functioning skills, promoting the growth of the community as a whole.

Xpress: When and why did you begin volunteering for Arms Around ASD?

Gerhardt: I began volunteering for Arms Around ASD two years ago. It appealed to me because I am a speech-language pathologist and have spent much of my career working with individuals on the autism spectrum. It was always a challenge to find services for the clients and their families. At Arms, the clients and their families are provided most of the services they need in a loving and nurturing environment. Every service and class is provided by a volunteer, which allows us to keep the services free or at a nominal fee. Every town should be fortunate enough to have a similar organization.

What do you do at the nonprofit and what keeps you returning to the volunteer position?

Arms has a boutique called The Big Hug Boutique at our facility in the Asheville Mall. The boutique sells upscale thrift and art and jewelry made by our clients, their families or our volunteers. The art and jewelry are sold on commission so our families receive this additional benefit.  I started my volunteer work at the front desk in the boutique. Working in a gift shop has always been a fun dream.  Working in one with such a great purpose is a bonus. I am honored to now serve on the board of directors and assist in our fundraising efforts.

What do you wish you’d known prior to starting?

Honestly, I wish I had known such a place existed in Asheville and needed volunteers. It has been such a rewarding experience that my only regret is not having done it longer. The people who volunteer at Arms are some of the most giving of their time and talents that I have ever met, including our founder and executive director who works tirelessly as a volunteer. I do wish there were more funding sources for nonprofit groups like ours. Because our services are offered at a nominal fee or free, fundraising is always on the forefront.

What do you tell folks who are interested in volunteering but have yet to commit to volunteering?

Asheville has a great vehicle to help you get started. I found Arms through Hands on Asheville-Buncombe. You can go on their site and find all the volunteer opportunities in Asheville. If you have a passion or an interest, you will probably find a volunteer job to match that interest. Most opportunities have a time frame so you can choose one to try it out. I truly believe that you always get more than you give when volunteering. This has certainly been the case for me and I think most of our volunteers at Arms Around Autism.


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