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Americans make volunteering a priority

How to find the right service opportunity for you

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March 28th, 2014
volunteer reading to children
volunteer reading to children

Americans have many options when it comes to how they choose to spend their free time. There are sports fans and book lovers, gardeners and gamers...and there are volunteers. A new national study by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) shows that millions of Americans make volunteering a priority in their lives. 

The study found that about one in four Americans gives his or her time to a worthy cause. In 2012, 64.5 million Americans volunteered a total of 7.9 billion hours. The estimated value of all of those service hours tallies up to about $175 billion. Volunteers helped children learn to read, they cared for sick and neglected animals, and they repaired storm damaged homes and community buildings. Where there was a need, there was a volunteer. 

Older Americans lead the way

“Helping others who are in need and working together to strengthen our communities is an important American tradition that helps make our nation so resilient,” says Wendy Spencer, CEO of CNCS. While volunteers come in all shapes, sizes, and ages, Americans over the age of 65 were the strongest and most committed group—volunteering almost twice the number of hours as the general population. 

“We know that one of the most significant benefits of volunteering is simply knowing that you’re making a difference in the lives of others by incorporating service into your own life,” said Dr. Erwin Tan, director of Senior Corps. “But the health benefits of volunteering are indisputable. Time and time again, we see evidence that volunteering helps lead to higher levels of well-being and lower rates of depression.”

National Volunteer Month

April is National Volunteer Month, a time to shine a light on committed volunteers and encourage others to give their time and attention to community service. If you have been thinking about volunteering, there are a number of organizations you can tap into to find many different kinds of service opportunities. While any volunteer work is worthy and appreciated, the benefits of volunteering are most keenly realized over time—by making connections with other volunteers and with those being served. It’s important to choose a volunteer activity that suits you and your schedule so you will be able to stick with it for a while.     

Finding opportunity

One of the best ways to find local volunteer work is through VolunteerMatch, a nonprofit organization that “connects good people to good causes.” The Internet-based VolunteerMatch (volunteermatch.org) helps interested volunteers conduct targeted online searches to find service opportunities that match their interests and geographical preferences. For example, you can search for service opportunities within a particular zip code or geographic region. You can narrow that search further using keywords such as “animals” or “literacy.” Whether you’re interested in working with children, helping the homeless, or putting your building skills to work to repair and maintain local landmarks, there is bound to be something for you on VolunteerMatch.

Senior Corps

Senior Corps (nationalservice.gov/programs/senior-corps) is another great way to tap into local volunteer opportunities. Conceived during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, Senior Corps currently connects over 360,000 people over the age of 55 to worthwhile volunteer efforts. They oversee three different programs. 

The Senior Corps Foster Grandparents program enlists older people to serve as role models and mentors for younger people. Volunteers help children learn to read, they help care for premature infants and children with disabilities, and they help children who have suffered from abuse and neglect. Foster grandparents serve from 15 to 40 hours per week.

Another Senior Corp program called RSVP encompasses a wide range of volunteer efforts. RSVP volunteers organize neighborhood watch programs, tutor and mentor disadvantaged or disabled youth, renovate homes, teach English to immigrants, and assist victims of natural disasters. RSVP volunteers can choose how much time they wish to serve—from a few hours per week up to a full 40-hour workweek.

The third Senior Corp program is called Senior Companions. This program helps adults who are challenged by everyday activities. Volunteers help in a variety of ways. They shop for groceries. They help people organize and pay their bills. They run errands. Sometimes, all that’s really needed is time spent chatting with someone over a cup of tea. Senior Companions serve between 15 and 40 hours per week.

Regardless of how you choose to volunteer your time, keep in mind that your efforts have an impact. “Volunteering is a critical component of civic life,” says Ilir Zherka, executive director of NCoC. “When people are involved in their communities through service, giving, political involvement, and other civic actions, our country is stronger and more prosperous.”

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