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Part of the effort is getting the message out among 'super volunteers' to inspire others, said campaign founder Ken Engelman (left) shown here with state Senator Christine Cohen (right), who now carries the message on her vehicle. (Photo courtesy Ken Engelman )
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An inspiring message to others that's also the social media handle of growing group of folks who are providing nimble assistance to those in need is building a name for itself in Branford: Volunteer #itswhatwedo
That phrase, and the intent of the message, is part of a grassroots campaign developed by Ken Engelman and friends.
As featured in a past Person of the Week article about Engelman, this local resident has put his marketing expertise to work for years as volunteer for many worthwhile groups, such as Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter, for which he established Branford's Woofstock Music Festival in 2013. His vision and guidance of the festival quickly developed it into one of the major annual fundraisers supporting the Branford/North Branford no-kill municipal animal shelter.
Through the years and through his own involvement as a volunteer with local non-profits, Engelman said he's come to realize that generating volunteers for these organizations is just as important as generating funds.
"Over the years, I've been thinking, how can I help more? What can I do to do more for non-profits? And I realized it wasn't my doing the actual work for each one, but it was inspiring others to volunteer," said Engelman.
About a month ago, Engelman was discussing his idea with a couple of other "super volunteers" – shoreline resident and Connecticut DJ of most generous spirit, John "Cadillac" Saville; and non-profit Community Dining Room executive director/go-getter Judy Barron. All three also happen to be Beacon Award winners – recipients of Shore Publishing's annual honor recognizing of some of the outstanding individuals who selflessly contribute to the community, making it a better place for all.
"We were having coffee, just talking about volunteering. I said look at us, the three 'Beaconeers,'" said Engelman, chuckling. "And John said, 'It's what we do.' And I looked at him and I said – you're on to something there."
Engelman put the words into shape. He created a sleek vinyl decal with the message. He established the urls www.volunteeritswhatwedo.org and www.volunteeritswhatwedo.com and built a website landing page with assistance from Barron. And he set up a public Facebook group, Volunteer #itswhatwedo
Through that group, the effort has already started branching into quick-response projects to help others. The first project, spearheaded by Engelman, Saville and Barron, came together three weeks ago -- helping a senior citizen who volunteers preparing meals for the Community Dining Room (CDR) home delivery program.
"Carol's a retiree who spends all her time making meals for this CDR program, and her car died unexpectedly a few weeks ago," said Engelman, who volunteers with CDR. "So Judy and I talked about it, and we went down to Midtown Motors [Branford], and Judy motivated the owner to give a big discount on a used Jeep. A bunch of us in the Facebook group then kicked in money, and we paid for half the cost of this vehicle for her. John gave Midtown a great shout-out on the radio for helping us out. Carol inspired us, and we wanted to help her be happy in what she does, which is helping other people."
Next, on June 24, Saville reached out to Engleman through the group, asking if he knew of a motorcycle rider with a sidecar. Saville had just learned of a U.S. Marine whose final wish was to ride in a motorcycle sidecar on June 25 in Suffield, said Engelman.
As a marketing and business development professional who has extensive experience as a consultant for nationally known motorcycle brands including Harley Davidson, Honda, Suzuki, and BMW (to name a few), Engelman knew a guy.
"Immediately, I made a phone call to my friend Andy in Norwich who has one, and we agreed to go give this United States veteran his last wish," said Engelman, noting Connecticut Patriot Guard Riders also signed on to help host this "hero's last ride," which took place at noon on June 25.
While Volunteer #itswhatwedo is building momentum as a Facebook group, Engelman is hoping the campaign's distinct vinyl window vehicle signs will also do their work – getting the message out into the community to inspire others. He's offering to place them on the rear windows of vehicles of "super volunteers" who can be a touchstone to inspire others to volunteer.
"This campaign has picked up so much community traction that Senator Christine Cohen placed one on the back of her vehicle [during a] weekend when I was volunteering at the Community Dining Room with Judy Barron. Many others are seeking me out asking me to place it on their windows too," said Engelman.
He hopes those who may see the words Volunteer #itswhatwedo on the back window of a car in front of them will be motivated by the message and volunteer to help out somewhere, in some way, great or small.
"It's all about making this world a better place, in all different communities," said Engelman.
To that end, Engelman has also placed the decals with some super volunteers he's connected with beyond Branford, which has put the message on display in eight different states as well as in Australia and Israel, to date.
"I want to take this nationwide," said Engelman. "I don't know how to make something go viral, but if the right person knows how to make this go viral, I'd love to hear from them. I'm not asking for money. I'm just asking people to share the good word of being a good human being."
The 2020 guide to the Madison Chamber of Commerce has arrived!