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COLUMBUS – Only 25 percent of people feel connected to their communities, according to a national survey by the YMCA of the U.S.A., and the TOGETHERHOOD program is determined to narrow that gap.

This nationally-recognized program offers people the opportunity to give back to their communities through various service projects while getting them in touch with local social issues.

Currently, only two YMCAs in Nebraska have adopted the TOGETHERHOOD program -- one in Columbus and one in Beatrice. The program started in Columbus in 2015 and coincides with The Y’s core value of social responsibility.

The program’s service projects are developed based on the community’s needs and are produced three to four times a year.

Every year, The Y partners with Pinnacle Bank for its “Christmas for Our Troops” event where volunteers gather goods to be sent overseas.

The Y also partnered with the Columbus Community Hospital for its CHIP Project. This service project promotes a healthy lifestyle through a wellness garden that volunteers help prepare and grow fresh produce.

The service projects are structured in a way that is suitable for people of all ages and abilities, said Betsy Eckhardt, membership director at The Y.

So far the program has seven members on its volunteer committee board. They are the ones that meet to discuss and develop service projects for the year.

Since being established, Eckhardt notices new faces at every project and is glad that the numbers are growing. In addition to new volunteer members, the program also has recurring volunteers that consistently donate their time to different projects.

Based on the data by the YMCA of the U.S.A, volunteers are 27 percent more likely to find a job, because volunteerism can help boost a person’s confidence and opens networking opportunities.

“When you give back to the community, it helps a person’s own well-being and self-esteem,” Eckhardt said.

In terms of networking, various organizations and businesses take notice of a person’s skill while he or she is volunteering. Skills like organizational and leadership skills that can attract potential employers will be given time to shine during the projects.

All the service projects are funded by The Y and an upcoming service project is expected to be held in April. The program is open to everyone regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity and abilities. Those who are interested can find more information on The Y’s webpage.

“The more people we have to take part and the more people that are believing in what you’re doing, it fuels you to want to be better at it and it fuels you to want to make a difference,” Eckhardt said.

“Growing will help improve how many projects we can do and the projects that we are already doing.”

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