By Laurie Tigan, Literacy Volunteers of Central Mass executive director
Happy New Year, it’s time again to make a resolution. If you are sitting on the fence, or on a couch or in a place of ennui Volunteering might just get you kick started for a wonderful new year. There are so many causes to think about, homelessness, hunger, domestic violence, animal cruelty, the environment, youth and social justice. What are you waiting for?
One of the greatest aspects of volunteerism is that there are so many different ways to get involved. And it’s not just Baby Boomers who are doing it, although they make up the largest percentage of volunteers. Coming from Worcester’s high schools and colleges thousands of students are doing community service. Some of the activities like cleaning up neighborhoods, planting community gardens and shoveling snow for homebound elderly prove that Worcester is a city with a heart. To get a gist of just how many opportunities there are to get involved in check out the volunteering options on Craigslist, The United Way or RSVP websites. It is surprising.
Volunteers feel good. Despite the fact that not only do they not get paid but it often costs them to participate in their nonprofit work. Volunteers pay for gas, parking, and food on the job. They often contribute monetarily to their organization as well. But it is rare to find a grumpy volunteer. Doing something that makes a difference is what compels most people to get involved. Putting boots on the ground rather than sitting on the sidelines is something that motivates overprivileged folks to give that extra effort to help others who might be underprivileged.
The impact in any city where you have enlightened givers or do-gooders is a place where you want to be. In Worcester we are fortunate to have hundreds of large and small nonprofits doing good work all over the city. All nonprofits rely on volunteer help for efficiency and sustainability. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 64 million people volunteered at least once over the last two years. The Corporation for National and Community Service says collectively 8.1 billion hours are dedicated to a wide variety of organizations. That donated time and expertise is valued at $173 billion. Taking just a simple calculation of 50 states diving into 173 billion, would mean that at least 3.5 billion dollars’ worth of hours was given in Massachusetts.
Not only has the amount of volunteerism increased, but the impact of volunteerism is increasing as well. Volunteers are taking on more important roles in organizations they strongly believe in. Boomers have time and expertise to give fully to a cause. The information super highway also advertises volunteering opportunities that perspective volunteers were never aware of before. Volunteers are getting savvy about just how, when and where they want to participate. This is a good thing, because a well-positioned volunteer ends up doing more for the organization and stays longer, one local shelter has had a volunteer for 37 years! It’s all about the right fit for both nonprofit and perspective volunteer.
As director of Literacy Volunteers of Greater Worcester (LVGW), I get to meet hundreds of volunteers and I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t want to feel needed and appreciated. It’s what makes the volunteering experience worthwhile. It’s also important that the organization utilizes volunteer expertise and talent in productive ways. To ensure that volunteers feel comfortable and ready to carry out the mission there should be trainings and professional development. LVGW volunteers learn to be master tutors who work one on one teaching English as a Second Language and Literacy skills to adults who have few resources to increase their educational capacity to live a more productive life.
Of course I’d be delighted if this plug for LVGW got you interested in our organization. But really any volunteering is just plain good for the soul. It could be one hour a week, but it might just end up being the most important hour of your life if it means enough to you to give your all.