Purdue Profiles: Ed Dunn

March 2, 2011

Ed Dunn, manager of video and multimedia production services within ITaP (Information Technology at Purdue). Dunn is standing in front of the Howarth Center in Lafayette, which provides local headquarters for Lafayette Transitional Housing, Abilities Services, American Red Cross, Family Services, Girl Scouts, and Habitat for Humanity. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons.

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Ed Dunn got involved with Leadership Lafayette about 10 years ago with a goal of working his way up the corporate ladder. The organization prepped him to be a community leader through volunteerism.

But big payoff comes, he says, with the satisfaction of being able to help people out. Dunn, manager of video and multimedia production services within ITaP (Information Technology at Purdue), now serves on United Way of Greater Lafayette board and is the board president for Lafayette Transitional Housing Center (LTHC). In late January, much to his own surprise, the United Way named him the Volunteer of the Year for 2010.
Next month Dunn will help lead LTHC efforts in Homeward Bound: Indiana's 5K Walk to Fight Homelessness. Walkers can sign up for the event online (see below), which takes place on April 16 at Riehle Plaza in downtown Lafayette.

How did you get started volunteering?
I was thinking about how I might make myself more marketable in the working world. A friend suggested going through Leadership Lafayette. They put us into teams out at Camp Tecumseh. Someone from my team got a job at Transitional Housing, which I got involved with, and then someone else got me on the United Way planning committee. Next thing you know, I'm on these boards and doing things.

What do you personally get out of donating your time to these agencies?

You feel like you're helping people who can actually use your help. Sometimes people -- through little fault of their own -- fall on hard times. They may be victims of domestic violence or lose their jobs. The work through Transitional Housing, for example, is about getting them going in the right direction. It's not necessarily a one-on-one thing. It's usually working within the whole scheme of nonprofit organizations in Lafayette that are affiliated with the United Way.

Are there larger goals within the agency work?

Of course. It's not just helping people who can't help themselves, or somehow trying to recover from something. We're also working in the education realm. We're trying to figure out how we can help raise the [high school] graduation rate in Lafayette. So that's a long-term improvement for society.

Talk about the services that Lafayette Transitional Housing provides.

What I like about Transitional Housing is that it's not a handout. LTHC teaches people life skills to help them get back on their feet. People come in and we might work with their resumes, or we might help them get back on a path toward school. In the long run, they end up becoming productive members of society. That's breaking the poverty cycle, which is what you really want to do.

So how's the transitional housing business in the tough economy?

It's booming, unfortunately. Unemployment rate in Tippecanoe County is what 8 percent? The food pantry at LTHC has increased at least twofold in the last year. There are more people asking for our services. All the agencies have seen increases in the last year. If you have that much unemployment, you probably have a lot more people who are underemployed. They may just be getting by. In this day and age, if you have a job and you're doing well, you should count yourself as being fortunate.
So how can people get involved in volunteer work?

One of the things the United Way has within its scope now is volunteerism. They have a list of agencies that need help in various functions. Nonprofit boards, like any organization, need help with legal services, promotion and marketing, human resource issues and more. That's the expertise a board wants to have. Everyone just sort of pitches in based on their strong suits. And every agency needs help in one way or another.

The Homeward Bound walk in April will raise money and awareness for the homeless in our community. Can you talk about the goals for both?

It's hard to measure just how many homeless people there may be in Tippecanoe County. You can count the people on the street, but some people living in cars or staying with friends and neighbors are also homeless. LTHC is one of seven local United Way agencies trying to raise $100,000 in the Homeward Bound walk in the county. Our goal is $10,000. Most people put together a team and raise money. The walk itself is a lot of fun.

How did you feel about being named Volunteer of the Year? Were you surprised?

I was surprised. But I feel like there are people that do a lot more work than I do. Obviously, I'm proud of it. The plaque is up on my mantel at home. It's great to be recognized for doing something you like to do.

To learn more about Homeward Bound Walk, visit www.homewardboundindiana.org.

To learn more about how you can volunteer, call the United Way at 765-742-9077, ext. 222, or send an e-mail to awood@uw.lafayette.in.us.