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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Choosing community service

(From left to right) Renee Wuerdeman, Tim Nelson and Dana Higgins

A few years ago, the Northern Kentucky Convention and Visitors Bureau in Covington, Ky., noticed that community service projects were on more meeting planners’ checklists.

“What we were hearing from our clients was that more and more were wanting to leave something behind. It has been really heartening to see it,” Renee Wuerdeman, director, bureau services.

As a result, the bureau created Voluntourism, a program that connects meeting groups to local charities and helps coordinate service projects for those charities.

Not surprisingly, faith-based organizations have been the biggest users of the program.

“A few corporate clients have used it, but it is mostly our religious groups taking advantage of the program,” said Wuerdeman.

Community service and religious organizations seem to go hand in hand, but faith-based organizations don’t always turn to CVBs to help them find volunteer opportunities.

Many CVBs contacted for this story said that faith-based organizations instead turn to their local members and churches for assistance and ideas.

A handful of communities, such as Northern Kentucky and Grand Rapids, Mich., take a more proactive approach, and others, including CVBs in Greenville, S.C., and Oceanside, Calif., have recently compiled lists of service projects for clients, religious and otherwise.

In Northern Kentucky, the CVB takes a hands-on approach with its faith-based clients. Doing so ensures the projects stay in the Northern Kentucky area, according to Wuerdeman. “And we know intricately what the needs are in this area,” she said.

The Kentucky United Methodist Church’s community service projects are a good example of the assistance the Northern Kentucky CVB can provide. The Methodists have held their annual conference in Northern Kentucky for the past four years and will return the next two. Last year, the CVB helped the conference orchestrate 17 different service projects.

At least half of the 1,000 church members who attend the conference participate in the service project.

Among the places church members voluntered were a food pantry, a nursing home and a mission. One group put together 500 health kits for victims of natural disasters. Attendees also donated canned foods for area food pantries. As the cans were dropped off in the Northern Kentucky Convention Center lobby, an artist from a local, government-funded art program turned them into sculpture. One year, the cans became the United Methodist Church’s logo; another year, Noah’s Ark.

The bureau continues to seek new service ideas. “We work hard to be out and about in the community,” Wuerdeman said. “Every client is different, so we need a lot of ideas.”

One new idea this year is a potato drop. A dump truckload of potatoes will arrive at the convention center. Faith-based conference attendees with water hoses will clean the potatoes and package them in 10-pound bags, which will be delivered to a food pantry.

In addition to much-needed manhours for area charities, the work results in good press for faith-based organizations. “Since we started the Voluntourism program we have had some sort of press any time we announced a project,” said Wuerdeman.