” for three seasons now. As we approach our fourth season, I am reflecting on what I have learned about volunteerism from our many guests. I will share some of that valuable information with you in a monthly column in our newsletter shared here in our Blog.
At the end of season three, I talked to Heather Foster, Executive Director of Volunteer West Virginia, about the “Volunteering in America
” report. The report is the result of an annual study funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is the federal agency that supports volunteerism and service throughout the United States. While the report gives information on volunteerism nationwide, our discussion focused mainly on volunteerism in West Virginia.
Since the last report, the number of volunteers in the Mountain State increased nearly 14%, and the state’s ranking rose from 44th to 40th. In a state with limited resources to provide for its population, the impact of volunteerism can be felt. Nearly 412,000 West Virginians performed 36.8 million hours’ worth of service valued at $888 million. These are not just feel-good activities. Some of the activities performed were professional in nature, such as medical, legal, or design services. In addition to those professional services, many of our state’s volunteers did so through their church, or school. Many parents were involved with after-school programs, and coaching sports teams.
The number one volunteer activity in West Virginia revolved around food. That may include collecting, cooking, or serving food. Foster explained that doesn’t mean our citizens have no food at all, but many poor families must make choices between paying for medication and groceries, or perhaps it is a choice between rent or groceries. Volunteers help fill that gap.
More than 58% of West Virginians say they do favors for their neighbors. That number has always been high in this category. Nearly all West Virginians reported talking regularly with friends and family. That may seem like second nature to many of you, because in West Virginia, it is. We help each other out. We check on each other. It’s just what you do. You don’t realize how special that is until compare numbers with other states. We also are among the most likely in the nation to donate to causes.
Tracking the number of volunteers and their volunteer hours is important because many programs that provide necessary services are grant funded, and grants tend to require reporting on hours and the financial worth of volunteering. Foster believes the impact such activity is a more accurate measure of its value. When you consider the free dental care that was provided after the flood, and the number of children who are being helped with their reading, the impact of volunteerism is easy to see. What could be more important to the long-term growth of the state than improving the health and education of our citizens?
After discussing some of the benefits to the volunteer, as well as the impact of their service, Foster suggested that volunteerism could be a strategy to address many of the issues facing our state. She hopes to modernize our online matching system and bring more of a business model to volunteer management in the future.
“Volunteering in West Virginia” is aired on the Library Channel Thursdays at 10am, 4pm, and 10pm; Fridays at 4am; and Saturdays at 7pm.