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Volunteering starts with the individual

In Our Opinion


During the summer, there are community events — big and small — that bring citizens together, including Medical Lake’s Founder’s Day, the Cheney Rodeo and the Cheney Jubilee.

These events are run by organizations and unpaid volunteers who sacrifice their time and resources to make the events happen.

But the number of individuals volunteering for these and other groups have declined in the last few years. In fact, volunteering has decreased across the United States.

According to a report from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), volunteering has hit its lowest rate in more than 10 years. As of September 2013, 25.4 percent of Americans age 16 and older had volunteered with an organization at least once in the last year.

Other countries seem to have a higher rate of volunteering. According to a 2010 study from Canada’s national statistical agency, 47 percent of Canadians 15 years and older volunteered in 2010.

According to the United Kingdom’s website, the official statistics published by the Cabinet Office shows “the proportion of people volunteering at least once a year has increased from 65 percent in 2010 to 2011 to 71 percent in 2012, with an even bigger increase in the proportion of people volunteering regularly.”

The BLS report did not state the reasons for the decline in volunteering in the U.S., but several factors could contribute to it.

National organizations such as the Rotary Club and Shriners are losing steam because not enough people are joining and helping to keep them going.

Although many organizations have a core group of members, these folks get stretched thin after taking on too much and eventually get burned out, which could result in these volunteers quitting or at least not making the effort to come up with new ideas to make their organizations or events better.

Growing up, we are taught that volunteering makes you a part of the community. Several youth organizations, including the Kiwanis’ Club, the Boy Scouts of America and Girl Scouts of the USA put an emphasis on volunteering and community service. Volunteering not only can help keep kids out of trouble, but also those who get involved with these groups can fall in love and devote more time to the organization beyond their involvement within their original groups. Some high schools have seniors do a community service project as a requirement for graduation.

But employed adults might not believe they have time to give because they are always connected to their work. People need to disconnect from their careers and take part in the community.

Our own selfishness can also play a part in not wanting to volunteer. When we invest our time and resources into something, we feel we should be compensated. If we don’t receive a reward for doing something, why should we bother?

Some parents are active in youth organizations because their children are involved but once the kids are done, their own involvement and interest decreases. Others will come into a group with their own agenda and if things aren’t going the way they want them to, they’ll leave.

When we volunteer for something, we shouldn’t expect anything other than gratitude from the people we are serving. Part of volunteering is to serve others and the community — not ourselves.

The lack of volunteerism isn’t always with the volunteers. Some organizations need to do a better job of bringing new members into the fold. Not only will it take some of the burden off of their shoulders, but it also brings in new perspectives and fresh ideas.

Some groups don’t have the resources to let the public know of their needs for volunteers. That’s when you go to them.

If you do approach a group and they aren’t interested in your help, try a different one. There are plenty of organizations that would love your help.

If you don’t feel called to volunteer and see someone who is helping, shake their hand and say “thank you.”

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