By Alexandra Conforti, ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation

Volunteer in Paradise (VIP), a program through the Paradise Valley Unified School District (PVUSD), has a core group of about 100 volunteers from various backgrounds, including parents, retired educators, nurses and other skills-based volunteers. Together, they provide one-on-one and small-group instruction in reading and math to nearly 1,000 students from kindergarten to 8th grade. But with an estimated 3,000 students in need of the services, VIP needed to grow.

Marisha Geraghty, volunteer coordinator for VIP, says they “were at a point where we really felt it was necessary to expand the impact we were having on our students,” and strategic and tactical ideas were necessary to move forward.

In early 2020, VIP enrolled in the Service Enterprise Initiative (SEI) through the ASU Lodestar Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Innovation, which works with Points of Light and the Arizona Governor’s Office of Youth, Faith & Family to offer this exclusive volunteer-management program to Arizona nonprofit and public organizations. VIP is the first school district to go through the Service Enterprise Initiative program with ASU.
SEI provides organizations with access to a research-based program that includes a diagnostic evaluation of their current volunteer engagement practices and tailored recommendations for improvement, 16 hours of training focused on change-management and volunteer engagement strategies, and individualized coaching, all working toward national certification as a Service Enterprise from the Points of Light Foundation.

Once the pandemic hit, the ASU Lodestar Center and its trainers reinvented SEI as a virtual program. The district expects to receive Service Enterprise certification this spring. “The process has been illuminating because it shows that, with some small changes, the organization can be a lot more effective,” Geraghty says.

Through SEI, the district was able to establish a goal to assist all students in kindergarten through 8th grade that are minimally or partially proficient. Additionally, they were able to track and measure their volunteer value and leverage the skills of high quality volunteers in new ways.

Cathy McKeever, a volunteer for VIP, says she has enjoyed tutoring both reading and writing for PVUSD students for the past three school years and values the volunteer experience. McKeever adds that she, Geraghty and other VIPs were able to share the SEI workload and advance through the training together by combining their technical skills, business knowledge and volunteer backgrounds.

The district’s initiative and willingness to focus on the change-management process of the program to help benefit their volunteer program, especially through COVID-19, was noticed by Jill Watts, who oversees the SEI program as the director of capacity building initiatives at the ASU Lodestar Center.

“What VIP has done serves as a model to other school districts that are looking to make some innovation changes around how they use volunteers to increase student interaction and engagement,” Watts says.

Learn more about the Service Enterprise Initiative by visiting