Volunteering is strong, but more needed

In organizations across the nation, millions of people donate their time in service to the community, but more are needed. With National Volunteer Week scheduled for April 6-12, this is a timely topic for discussion.
Around the Tampa Bay area, hundreds of hospitals, museums, libraries, concert halls and community centers, as well as religious, educational and social service organizations depend on an army of volunteers.
These unpaid workers assist the public, deliver meals, answer questions and serve as guides, ushers, tutors, board members and a broad range of other duties.
In Florida, with about one in five people over age 65, volunteers in these types of positions often are retired people, contributing their skills, knowledge and experience to the community.
Conversely, younger volunteers and especially parents are more likely to donate their time toward volunteer activities related to children -- including coaching, refereeing or supervising sports teams, tutoring or teaching and mentoring youth.
Also, students doing community service as part of their educational experience make up a large contingent of volunteer workers.
Many volunteers say they donate time to nonprofit organizations, because they want to improve their community, help people in need, keep up their skills and spend time productively.
 When a family member suffers from a particular disease, relatives and friends often take up the cause to help find a cure and assist other families stricken by that disease.
So, how valuable is all this volunteer work?
The good news is found in a Feb. 25th U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) survey, “Volunteering in the United States – 2013.” About 62.6 million Americans each spend a median of 50 hours on volunteer activities per year. Women consistently volunteer at a higher rate than men, about 36 million women to 26 million men.
The value of volunteer time, as reported by a nonprofit network called Independent Sector, is estimated in Florida at $18.85 an hour, totaling about $9 billion a year. Nationally, the value of volunteer work is calculated to be as high as $171 billion a year.
Older people are major contributors of volunteer time. Nationwide, about 10.6 million senior citizens do volunteer work, according to the BLS report, about 24 percent of Americans over 65, who spend a median of 86 hours during the year doing volunteer service.
Not all is well with volunteerism in America.
The bad news is that the volunteer rate among Americans is declining among most age groups. People generally are busy, have other pressures in their lives and may not have time to do as much in the community as they would like.
 Total volunteering, in the BLS report, has declined over the past five years from 26.8 percent of Americans to 25.4 percent.
Among people over 65, however, the volunteer rate is reported to be holding steady at about 24 percent of seniors volunteering each year.
So, young or old, now may be a good time to seek out a nonprofit organization, ask a friend who already volunteers to introduce you or contact a religious organization or service club about getting more involved. Most nonprofit groups could use your help.
According to the Points of Light Foundation, National Volunteer Week, April 6-12, is about “inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage in their communities.”
- Joseph Santangelo is a former reporter for the Bergen Record in New Jersey and writes from Clearwater, where he volunteers at the Clearwater Main Library information desk.
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