Archive for Saturday, March 24, 2012

Study: Volunteering up in down economy

March 24, 2012

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Volunteering in the United States saw a bump in 2011, according to recently released statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nearly 27 percent of people volunteered for a nonprofit in 2011, up 0.5 percent.

Local nonprofits say they’ve been the beneficiary of extra helpers.

“Absolutely,” said Tracie Howell, Lawrence Habitat for Humanity executive director. Howell said they have so many people looking to volunteer that they have a wait list.

And the poor economy over the past few years may have played a part in increasing volunteering nationally and locally.

At Habitat, Howell said, they’re seeing a lot of out-of-work construction workers who “just want to keep their skills up.”

Then there are the people who in the past have been able to donate money but aren’t able to right now.

“So they just give their time,” she said.

Being aware that people are hurting and that nonprofits could use extra volunteers to meet the need also plays a role in increases, said Susan Ellis, executive director of Energize Inc., a national organization that promotes volunteering.

“When times are bad, people know times are bad,” Ellis said.

Out-of-work people look to volunteer work to add new skills and also rewarded with a positive “psychological boost,” she said.

And with the unemployed being out of work for longer periods of time, volunteer work helps explain gaps in employment, allowing job seekers to say, “I didn’t just sit home and twiddle my thumbs,” Ellis said.

And in Lawrence, nonprofits have the benefit of a higher-than-average volunteer rate, at more than 41 percent, according to 2010 numbers. Kansas, meanwhile, ranked seventh in the country in 2010, with a 35.8 percent rate.

The high rate in Lawrence “doesn’t surprise me,” said Lori Johns, director of the Roger Hill Volunteer Center.

“I think there are a lot more opportunities,” Johns said. “People here are interested in everything.”

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