Volunteer time at a premium

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By Robert Boyd / Online Editor

By Robert Boyd / Online Editor

Children, seniors, veterans, animals, the hungry, homeless and jobless.

It is an abbreviated list of the vulnerable, abandoned and forgotten.

It’s a list that most everybody can identify with, especially with layoffs, furloughs, cutbacks, setbacks and foreclosures.

These are the faces of neighbors, coworkers, friends, family and parishioners who replace impersonal statistics with familiarity.

These statistics are countered by another statistic that many in Riverside cannot identify, though.

That is the statistic of volunteerism.  

It’s an anonymous statistic because, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, less than 20 percent in the community participate.

The Corporation for National and Community Service is a federal agency focusing on volunteerism in the United States.  

Another federal agency, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, reports that Riverside volunteerism is 6 percent lower than the national average.

Why are local volunteer statistics down?

Some point to priorities. Jessica Brown, the Riverside Borders café supervisor, blushed when admitting that she no longer volunteered.

“I just ran out of time,” Brown said.

She once gave blood and volunteered time at the animal shelter.

Full-time work and school forced her to pick priorities.

She added that she wanted to return, but hadn’t found the time.

“If I could spend my days not worrying about money,” she said, “I would spend my days giving help to others.”

So would Tracy Hilborn, a marketer, who commutes between Riverside and Los Angeles.

For her, volunteerism requires time.

“I leave the house anywhere between six and seven in the morning and don’t get home until between seven and eight at night and that’s five days a week,” Hilborn said.

She grew up believing volunteering was a way of life.

“It seems like as a kid we were always volunteering and tagging along doing stuff for the community,” she said.

According to Hilborn, her retired parents continue volunteering time in Port Austin, Michigan.  

For her though, working and commuting cost Hilborn approximately 65 hours a week, leaving her little time to regroup, let alone volunteer.

Still, she said that she wants to give.

“One thing I could see doing on the weekends,” Hilborn said, “is assisting at church functions where they’re taking food to the homeless or helping at soup kitchens.”

Many, like Hilborn and Brown, fill their hours with work and studies, fortifying their lives against the siege of recession, leaving little time for much else.

The current economic climate threatens to increase volunteer opportunities while depleting volunteer participants.

As more houses are foreclosed and more people are unemployed, more people struggle not to join the statistical ranks of the needy.

Communities like Riverside scramble to find time and means to assist family, friends and neighbors afflicted by crisis.

Kevin McCarthy, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of the Inland Valleys, has an answer.

He suggested that the challenge of volunteerism is meeting the value needs of the volunteer.

 He proposed that it’s important to clarify a person’s objective for volunteering so you can create a rewarding experience.

“Identify what they’re looking for and then try to craft it around them,” McCarthy said.

A rewarding experience can give volunteers a reason to return, if only for a few hours a month.

“We have people here who are putting in eight hours a day volunteering and we have other people putting in an hour a month,” McCarthy said.

For those who want to give, but are unsure about the best way to donate their time, McCarthy suggests contacting Community Connect 211, a United Way funded organization, with a database of local volunteer opportunities.

To contact Community Connect 211, visit http://www.connectriverside.org.

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