- Author: JoLynn Miller
Last month was National Volunteering Month and as a wrap up, here are some amazing things about volunteering you may not have known!
History of Volunteering
Volunteering is part of the fabric of our nation. From the very beginning, community members banded together to help each other out. One of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, started the first volunteer firehouse in 1736 and other efforts followed, often in support of the Revolutionary War. In the 1800s religious organizations fed the homeless and helped those less fortunate. Also, in the 1800s many well-known organizations were formed. These include the YMCA, American Red Cross, and United Way. During the 1900s volunteering increased with organizations like Rotary, Lions Club, and Kiwanis. Many of these volunteer organizations were focused on helping people in need, but youth serving organizations also got their start in the early 1900s; organizations like 4-H, Camp Fire Girls, Boys and Girls Clubs, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts.
Nationally, and in California, volunteer rates increased during the 1970's, 80's, and 90's. Numbers hit a peak in the mid-2000s. Over the last ten years, those rates have remained steady or slightly dropped. In 2021, over 5.5 million formal volunteers contributed 379.2 million hours of service through organizations, with an estimated worth of $13.5 billion (Americorps.gov). This equates to roughly 18.3% of California residents who formally volunteered through organizations. Over 46.1% of residents report doing a favor for a neighbor which is a type of informal volunteering. Virtual volunteering increased prior to and during the pandemic. It allows community members to help organizations even when they are not in town. Things like accounting, writing newsletters, website design, or social media are all jobs volunteers can do virtually and on their own schedule.
Benefits to YOU
Did you know you might live longer if you volunteer? The Mayo Clinic cites research that shows volunteering leads to improved physical and mental health. In addition, in 2005 a longitudinal study showed folks that volunteer live longer than those that don't.
Volunteering could serve as a path to employment, not only for teens and young adults, but for those re-entering the workforce after time away. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) states that volunteers have a 27% higher chance of finding a job after being out of work compared to those not volunteering. If a person does not have a high school diploma, volunteering could increase their chance of finding a job by 51%! The CNCS reports that volunteers living in rural areas have a 55% higher chance of finding employment that non-volunteers. While the research didn't investigate why this may be true, there could be a variety of reasons. Volunteers get experience and skill-building within the organization. When you volunteer, you build connections with others who can vouch for your reputation and work ethic. In depth volunteering can and should be placed on a resume with the supervisor or volunteer coordinator listed as a reference. In a recent study by Worker et al (2020), California 4-H volunteers reported personal benefits of volunteering in five themes: Skill Development, Well-being, Sense of Gratification from Working with Youth and Adults, Social Development, and Deepening their Relationship with 4-H. This study describes the positive benefit volunteering with this organization had on the volunteer themselves.
Benefits to the Community
Research suggests that communities with strong volunteerism rates are stronger and more resilient overall. Community members who volunteer act as bridges bringing people together that may not have otherwise been connected. Local economy experiences positive effects when individuals receive professional development opportunities as part of their volunteer role. A 2012 report from the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) explained that an increased number and variety of nonprofit organizations in a community, along with positive community relationships, can help it to withstand unemployment in a recession. The NCoC states “for individuals who held jobs in 2008, the odds of becoming unemployed were cut in half if they lived in a community with many nonprofit organizations rather than one with a few nonprofits, even if the two communities were otherwise similar.”
A quick story.
Tuolumne County hosts a county-wide volunteer fair every year where they try to connect local citizens with volunteering opportunities. I had the pleasure of interviewing a participant that came to the 2018 fair and in 2019 started volunteering at the local juvenile hall via a community non-profit. Because of her great work at the juvenile hall, this volunteer was invited to a presentation by renowned child psychologist, Dr. Ross Green, hosted by the YES Partnership and Tuolumne Resiliency Coalition, titled: “Collaborative and Proactive Solutions: Understanding and helping children with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges. This ultimately led adding to coursework at Columbia College and she is now double majoring in Psychology and Allied Health. Because of this volunteering opportunity, she feels better able to take initiative and has been able to push out of her comfort zone. “Since the Volunteer Fair, things in my life have just lined up.” She credits her attendance at the Volunteer Fair and subsequent volunteering to her changing life's course.
Continue to volunteer! Help others see the benefits of volunteering within 4-H and other organizations. We appreciate what you bring to the organization, and we hope you see the benefit too!
Harris AH, Thoresen CE. Volunteering is associated with delayed mortality in older people: analysis of the longitudinal study of aging. J Health Psychol. 2005 Nov;10(6):739-52. doi: 10.1177/1359105305057310. PMID: 16176953.
Worker, S.M., Espinoza, D.M., Kok, C.M., Go, C.G., Miller, J.C. (2020) Volunteer Outcomes and Impact: The Contributions and Consequences of Volunteering in 4-H. Journal of Youth Development. Vol 15 (4). DOI 10.5195/jyd.2020.847