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New report highlights increase in national volunteering

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 19 2012 8:55 a.m. MST

"In many ways the story of America is the story of volunteers," he said. "It's part of who we are as Americans."

Faith and volunteering

Spencer recalled when a bishop from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to Florida in 2004 and showed her firsthand the powerful combination of faith and volunteering. After Florida's fourth Hurricane in 44 days, she was asked by the Mormon bishop how he could help relief efforts.

"I told him we really need some more nonperishable items and food," Spencer said. "Overnight several tractor trailers filled with nonperishable canned food items arrived in our state. I'll never forget that."

Volunteering through religious organizations happens everywhere across the country. The No. 1 volunteer activity this last year was raising funds for charities of faith-based organizations, Spencer said.

"Faith-based organizations provide a very well-organized vehicle for people to help through," she said. "Americans want to help others, but they need to be connected to both a need and an organized mechanism. They can't just show up."

Often times, faith-based organizations provide the most well-oiled mechanism. They are adept at finding specific needs in the community and working to address those needs, Spencer said.

"Faith-based organizations are on the ground identifying needs. They are working and serving in communities and neighborhoods and they hear from the public about the needs … Other families who have means can help those families in need," she said.

"Faith-based is the No. 1 way to do this."

Importance of volunteering

Volunteers can gain invaluable skills that will help them find employment, Scott said. Volunteers in AmeriCorps can receive money to help pay for education as well as skills to kick-start their careers, Scott said.

"Volunteers can gain new skills and meet new contacts as well as experiencing the profound joy and satisfaction that comes from serving a larger cause," he said. "We have 18-year-olds leading crews in Hurricane response."

Volunteering can also provide a somewhat intangible benefit to people: hope.

"The physical work is important, but so is the emotional lift that comes from the kindness of strangers," Scott said.

The civic health of communities is linked with unemployment rates, Spencer said. Volunteering, public meetings, voting, helping neighbors and a high density of nonprofits all contribute to communities with lower unemployment. This is something for public officials, such as mayors, to recognize, she said.

The importance of simply asking for volunteers is critical to continue the increase in volunteering, Scott said. Elected leaders, such as President Obama, also need to stress the importance of service, he said.

"The No. 1 reason people volunteer is because they are asked," Scott said. "We need to make sure that the call is made and that they are quality opportunities for when people answer the call."

With nonprofits facing an increasing demand for their services, volunteers can step in and provide help that will benefit themselves and their community, Scott said.

"There are many needs out there and volunteers can help in significant ways," Scott said. "Find something what works for you. Your service can make a difference."

Among other highlights from the report:

  • 65.1 percent of citizens served their communities by doing favors for and helping out their neighbors
  • 44.1 percent of Americans actively participated in civic, religious and school groups
  • The top five states for volunteering: Utah, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota
  • Utah had the highest volunteer rate at 40.9 percent
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