A diverse group of volunteers join together to Work Out and Help Out. Credit: Courtesy / WOHO

One of the challenges many San Antonio nonprofits currently face is a shortage of volunteer labor to support their missions. There are a multitude of reasons for the shortage, but volunteer labor is essential to the nonprofit sector because motivated volunteers can accomplish incredible amounts of work free of charge in a fraction of the time it would take nonprofit employees.

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Fortunately, San Antonio is now home to a novel and innovative nonprofit that helps address this shortage by promoting volunteerism in a fun and rewarding manner. The nonprofit is called Work Out Help Out (WOHO). By incorporating unique elements into the framework of each volunteer event, WOHO effectively benefits not only the community at large, but the individual volunteer as well. This nonprofit model has engendered an infectious culture of excitement, altruism, and optimism that will propel the city of San Antonio forward into a new era of volunteerism.

Despite the profound impact volunteers can have on their community, participation rates remain low. Volunteer labor may be free for organizations and the community, but the cost for the volunteer comes in the form of time, which is becoming increasingly precious in the 21st century. In response to this, WOHO created a volunteer event environment that is short in duration and integrates exercise, music, socialization, and healthy meals. By combining multiple contributors to a healthy and fulfilling life into the fabric of every event, WOHO aims to transform public health and wellness on multiple levels.

Because WOHO events are designed explicitly to promote volunteerism, there are few parameters limiting who receives help. From larger organizations like Morgan’s Wonderland and the San Antonio Food Bank to individuals who just need a helping hand, WOHO is there to supply volunteers. Furthermore, WOHO has established partnerships with like-minded organizations to offer its volunteer community better value on commodities that bolster a healthy lifestyle. WOHO also utilizes one of the country’s first mobile apps designed exclusively for connecting volunteers with nonprofit organizations.

A student at The Academy at Morgan’s Wonderland shows his support for WOHO.
A student at The Academy at Morgan’s Wonderland shows his support for WOHO. Credit: Courtesy / WOHO

To further elucidate what a volunteer can expect at a WOHO event, let’s take a look at a recent example. WOHO contacted the San Antonio Food Bank to set up an event in early November. After confirming the details of the event, WOHO posted the event across its multiple platforms – the WOHO volunteer community database, Facebook, Instagram, Volunteermatch, Meetup, UTSA GivePulse, and its mobile app.

More than 90 volunteers registered to attend the event, and 61 volunteers participated in the end. For two hours, the group completed projects like planting and harvesting vegetables at the Food Bank’s garden, removing invasive weeds, and shucking ears of corn for future fall projects.

The group was divided into three groups of approximately 20 individuals, and groups alternated between the Work Out and Help Out components of the event. While two groups were performing the Help Out projects mentioned above, the third group was led through a series of exercises by WOHO President Paul Rezaei. Exercises included pushups, jumping jacks, squats and more – all scaled to individual ability level.

“Tremendous … In two hours (volunteers) did a month’s worth of work while taking breaks to workout,” one Food Bank representative remarked at the completion of the project.

Each WOHO event is uniquely based on the person or organization being helped, however, this example illustrates a typical volunteer experience with WOHO.

Rezaei and a close friend created WOHO in 2013, although at the time it was known as Fit Community. As the organization grew, Rezaei and his team decided to file for nonprofit 501(c)(3) status in 2014, and shortly thereafter they changed the name to Work Out Help Out. Since then, many pivotal changes have shaped the organization as volunteers know it today, including the addition of a new board of directors and staff members, improved digital communication capacity, and financial support from volunteers. While participating in The Big Give San Antonio 2016, WOHO was able to fundraise money to purchase branding material, equipment and tools for volunteer events, and healthy meals to offer its volunteers following each event.

The underlying intent of WOHO is to change public perception of physical activity, community service, and personal wellness. WOHO believes that in order to do so, it is necessary to unite volunteers across age groups, fitness levels, cultures, ethnicities, sexes, and religions for a common cause – serving the greater good. In order to support these beliefs and make strides toward a brighter future, WOHO has begun tracking its volunteer data, which now boasts impressive statistics for its second year of operation. In 2015, WOHO has:

  • Provided the city of San Antonio with almost 2,000 volunteer hours.
  • Helped more than 20 different individuals/organizations.
  • Hosted more than 30 volunteer opportunities.
  • Raised more than $1,000 for the benefit of other nonprofits.
  • Welcomed an average of 30 volunteers to each event.

The future of WOHO is bright as new opportunities sprout daily. As event attendance continues to snowball, WOHO is looking to expand within San Antonio by opening more branches. In fact, WOHO has recently opened branches in other major Texas cities. WOHO Dallas recently hosted its first volunteer event, while WOHO Austin and WOHO Houston are set to host their first events in January 2017. It is the hope of WOHO to eventually make international appearances into countries and cultures that would also benefit from a WOHO vision.

With more financial support from businesses and corporations that share similar passions for volunteerism and personal wellness, WOHO will be able to further improve its size and scope. For example, the addition of a physical location would be imperative in storing organizational assets and conducting business operations. Furthermore, financial support would allow for WOHO board members and staff to be compensated for their time, thereby allowing for more time to be invested back into the organization. As of the publication of this article, all WOHO board and staff members offer their time and talent pro bono.

Given the current climate in the United States, organizations like WOHO have an enormous capacity to impact interpersonal dynamics within the community. When people come together for the greater good, barriers are eliminated that would otherwise be present in typical social situations. Personal differences cease to matter when everyone is working toward a common goal in which completion of that goal relies predominantly on the cooperation of the team.

Technological advances have afforded marvelous opportunities to increase productivity, and capitalism in the U.S. is the epitome of this notion; however, oftentimes the extra hours worked seeking heightened productivity go hand in hand with less time with friends, family, and loved ones. The peril is that we become more productive and wealthier while we simultaneously sabotage our health and quality of life by eliminating something that is critical for optimal wellness – human connection.

The success of WOHO is a direct reflection of the spirit of the local community members involved with the program. By fomenting a refreshing volunteer culture, WOHO is closing the currently expanding gap between nonprofits and volunteers.

To get involved or join the WOHO volunteer community, click here. Download the WOHO mobile app “Legacy Founder” and search “Work Out Help Out” to view and register for upcoming events. Contact Info@workouthelpout.org for further inquiries and information on how to start a new WOHO in your local community.

Dr. Richardson is currently a physical therapist at Stratton Rehabilitation specializing in outpatient orthopaedic care. He earned his bachelor's in kinesiology from the UTSA in 2009, and his doctor of...