Volunteering reaches new high in Washington County, nation
Gina Ruschell, a volunteer at Washington Christian Outreach in Washington for more than 19 years, serves up soup for lunch at the center last week.
In Washington County, service organizations like the Salvation Army and the Washington Christian Outreach saw a recent rise in human capital, especially as the holidays were approaching.
“It’s the holiday season,” said Stephanie Patterson, a Washington Christian Outreach volunteer. “We need people to help clean toys, organize clothes and prepare boxes to give out to those in need.”
The growing number volunteers in Washington County reflect the findings in a report from the Corporation for National and Community Service that shows an increase in volunteering across the United States.
The national volunteer rate reached a five-year high in 2011, with more than 64.3 million Americans volunteering through a formal organization, a 1.5 million increase in volunteers compared to 2010 numbers.
Capt. Amanda Jones noticed a definite increase in the number of volunteers walking through the doors of the Salvation Army of Washington County building.
“More of the middle class is now needing help, so it’s a lot of neighbors pulling together and helping each other out,” Jones said. “People walk in and say, ‘We can’t give money, but how can we help?’ They want to give their time and do hands-on work.”
Jones and her husband have served in the Salvation Army for almost 11 years now. She said the Washington County branch needs help with the grunt work – cooking, cleaning, sorting through donations and serving hot meals. During the holiday season, Jones also helps organize visits to nursing homes, recruiting drivers and volunteers to spend a few hours with senior citizens.
“We need a lot of help in many different areas,” Jones said. “I guess you could call it ‘practical help.’”
The report also noted a heavy increase in parents of school-aged children volunteering at schools. Parents gave about 2.5 billion hours of time to school-based projects and fundraising in 2011.
Washington Park Elementary School PTA President Amy Roberts said she saw a slight increase in people who wanted to contribute to different events and fundraisers, explaining help from parents always seems to come in spurts.
Roberts, a stay-at-home mom, spends time at Washington Park Elementary School almost every day as a volunteer, stressing the importance of parents having a say in what goes on at the school.
“I think it’s important to be involved in your children’s education,” Roberts said. “I want to be approachable and developing relationships with the teachers. If there’s a problem, I want them to be able to come to me.”
According to the report, volunteers gave about 7.9 billion hours of time in 2011, estimated to be worth about $171 billion. Jones attributed some of the increases in volunteering to a “ripple effect” of people wanting to help others after receiving help.
“You think you’re helping others, but you quickly realize how blessed you are, giving time and helping someone,” said Jones. “It’s better than writing a check. It’s hands-on. When you see someone cares about you enough to help you out, you want to turn around and help someone else.”