Volunteering Part 2: Help Wanted!
Photo from Florence Area Humane Society
This is the second in our 2-part series examining how to find local volunteering opportunities. You can read Part 1 here.
Volunteer help is needed now, more than ever, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Labor.
A 2013 study showed that the U.S. volunteer rate has dropped to its lowest numbers since at least 2002, when volunteer data started being collected by the department. Overall, the Labor Department found that 25.4% of Americans volunteered their time in 2013, down from 26.5% the previous year.
Fortunately, those who do want to offer free help can find volunteer opportunities more easily now than in the past.
In addition to contacting agencies directly, asking friends and family for suggestions, or finding a volunteer center, in many cases volunteer work can be found by simply logging on to a computer.
Many agencies have their own websites. And websites such as www.serve.gov can, based on your zip code, locate volunteer opportunities in your area.
Agencies often include information online about how much time is needed, and any special skills desired. While most would love people who can commit for the long run, they welcome those who might only be able to help with one event or for a few hours a year.
Jobs for one and all
Jayne Boswell, president of the Florence Area Humane Society, in Florence, SC, said when she talks to potential volunteers she is primarily looking for those who not only love animals, but who will do their best to stick to any commitment they make to the society.
The humane society relies on volunteer help at its Jayne H. Boswell Animal Shelter—which was named in honor of the 62-year-old Boswell as thanks for her 20-plus years of volunteer service.
Like most volunteer agencies in need of help, the shelter has jobs for young and old, fit and not-so-fit, and everyone in between.
For example, some visit the shelter to walk and train puppies so that they are more adoptable. Others, from the comfort of their homes, craft cat toys from yarn or make blankets for the shelter’s animals to snuggle.
Boswell said both those who can help just once or regularly are welcome. One-time volunteers can do things such as come in and fold the endless number of blankets and towels that need to be washed, or help out with the annual silent auction, which is a key fundraiser to help cover the expenses of helping approximately 2,000 animals a year.
Boswell only asks that before committing to help, volunteers realistically consider how much they can do.
“People are busy, we understand that,” she said. “But it’s frustrating to us to have a gung-ho person who wants to do everything go through training and then when you call them they are not available again and again. So we just ask people to think about the level of commitment they can give. Helping one time is fine, just let us know.”
Good volunteers are the ones who are dedicated and know their limits, whatever they might be, Boswell said. For example, she has seen animal-loving volunteers come into the shelter and just not be able to stay.
“We like to think of the shelter as a happy place,” she said. “But for some animal lovers, it just breaks their heart to see the animals waiting to be adopted. It’s just too much for them. They can still help us, but need to in different ways.”
While many organizations can take an hour of help here and there, some rely on longer-term commitments from volunteers.
The Blacksburg, Virginia-based Raft Crisis Hotline, which serves communities in the New River Valley area, including Christiansburg, Radford, Pulaski, Giles and Floyd, counts on volunteers to donate at least two hours of their time each week after completing an eight-week training course.
Stephanie Bryson, who manages the facility, said the hotline offers crisis and suicide intervention, empathy and support, mental health and substance abuse information, and referrals for between 10,000 and 15,000 callers each year.
Bryson said the hotline is a unique volunteer experience and it takes a special person to do the work.
“Our volunteers are dedicated because of a genuine desire to help others. As simple as this sounds, it is also quite profound,” she said. “These volunteers are choosing to take time out of their lives to help guide others to improving their quality of life in some way. In some circumstances they are literally saving lives. It’s truly touching and powerful.”
Every little bit helps
Whether volunteers help a little or a lot, those who run agencies that count on people to give their time freely say each volunteer makes a difference and each helps to make the world a little better.
Volunteers modestly point out they also are helping themselves and improving their own lives by learning new things, meeting new people, and feeling useful.
Jim Turner, a retired teacher from Sanford, NC, says volunteering makes his life richer.
He volunteers regularly at First Baptist Church in Sanford, where he attends services. His volunteer activities, of which there are many, include helping out with the church’s athletic programs, such as coaching the youth who attend the Upward Basketball Camp.
He also helps shuttle workers to their jobs via the Sanford Job Express.
“Life doesn’t go so well for some people,” Turner said. “To have somebody that can encourage and be there, that can make a big difference for them. And it makes a big difference in my life, too. I am meeting new people, building relationships. I can’t think of a better way to spend my time. I’m blessed.”
Resources for Volunteers
When searching for volunteer work, there are numerous routes to take.
- You might first check to see if your community has a volunteer center.
- If you have an agency or organization in mind, you can contact them directly.
- If you don’t know where to volunteer, talk to family and friends, local churches, senior centers, schools, etc., and see if they have volunteering opportunities or know of any.
- When looking for organizations in need of help, the Internet can be a great resource, too:
- Try searching for specific agencies that might need volunteers (think food banks, soup kitchens, animal shelters, etc.).
- Or just type something as simple as “volunteering in (name of town, state, and zip code)” into a search engine and see what comes up.
There also are websites that help link organizations and willing volunteers. These include the following: