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Archive for Monday, May 25, 1998

VOLUNTEERING TAKES MANY FORMS

May 25, 1998

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Volunteering opportunities range from mailing fliers to delivering dinner to shut-ins

Across Lawrence, men, women and even children give their time to help others. Volunteers help with the United Way's paperwork and entertain the elderly. They clean up parks and counsel rape victims.

In the United States, 93 million volunteers gave an estimated 20.3 billion hours in 1995. Amy Griggs, coordinator of the Roger Hill Volunteer Center, helps Lawrence volunteers find agencies that need them. She said volunteers give their time in over 150 agencies in hundreds of ways for dozens of reasons.

Where people volunteer

Barbara Kelly, the SERTOMA Service to Mankind award winner for 1998, volunteers her time, an hour a week, at Brandon Woods Retirement Community. She puts on musical shows for Alzheimer's patients.

``It's something to spark them and to spark me, too, I guess,'' she said.

The volunteering center has a list of 150 agencies that use volunteers. Griggs said that she doesn't send volunteers to all of them; some find their own.

Volunteers can give their time in almost any way. Griggs tries to match volunteers to agencies where they can work the hours they want, and do the work they want to.

``You want to meet the needs, but you want to make sure that the volunteer is getting out of that experience what they need to, because otherwise, they won't continue to do it,'' she said. ``Volunteer opportunities are as different as people.''

Agencies range from the American Red Cross to THRIL, therapeutic horse riding. Hospice Care in Douglas County volunteers help provide support for terminally ill patients; Small World volunteers help teach foreign women English. Volunteers can find a way to help with almost any issue they feel is important.

Time commitments vary, too. There are special projects, like the corporate volunteer council's Home Improvement, a day when volunteers spruce up low-income homes. Park clean-ups and church bazaars are short-term commitments.

On the other end of the spectrum, some volunteering requires long commitments, like the Big Brother, Big Sister program.

``You could do an hour a month to 40 hours a week,'' she said. ``It just depends on how much time you have to donate. If we can figure out what you enjoy doing, and what your schedule is, we're going to get you in a situation where you're going to be happy where you're volunteering.''

How people volunteer

``I realized I still had a voice,'' Rebecca Richardson said at the Celebration of Volunteering in April. ``I might not have hands and feet, but I have a voice.''

Richardson has a degenerative nerve condition that has put her in a wheelchair. She volunteers her time to Audio-Reader, recording written material for the blind and print-impaired.

It's not just working in a soup kitchen or being a candy striper, Griggs said. Volunteers are needed to help with accounting, answer phones and send out mailings.

Griggs said a lot of agencies need office help.

Griggs says she refers an average of six to 10 people a day. She helps a lot of college students, but said she was also seeing an increase in the number of high school and junior high school students who want to volunteer.

She also is seeing more parents asking for volunteering they can do with their grade-school children.

``The last thing you want to do is have volunteering take you away from your family,'' she said. Many senior citizens volunteer, too, she said, but most don't use her services. They know where to go, she said.

Some volunteering, like park clean-ups or visiting nursing homes, require little or no training. Others, like hospice care or victim counseling, require extensive training. Women's Transitional Care Services, for battered women, and Rape Victims Survivors Service both require over 100 hours of training.

Why people volunteer

Breast Cancer Action Inc., a local coalition of health care professionals and breast cancer survivors, is dedicated to breast cancer education, breast health awareness and breast cancer screenings. Many have learned through experience.

Volunteers give their time for dozens of personal reasons, Griggs said.

``There's really not one reason,'' people volunteer, she said. ``I think that for most volunteers, the first reason is `I want to help.'''

Some become involved after a personal experience.

``A lot of times you will see that people will become involved in an agency or a cause because something happened in their family.''

Griggs thinks that Lawrence has more than average numbers of volunteers, though she had no exact figures.

``Lawrence has a tendency, I think, to be very generous with its time,'' she said. ``In Lawrence, you see a lot of people helping. It's a big enough and a small enough community that people want to help each other.''

-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is fhaynes@ljworld.com.

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