Busy, working adults can volunteer, too
They mentor children.
They answer phones.
They toil in the soil.
They are the nearly 61 million volunteers in the United States who last year contributed 8.1 billion hours of service worth more than $158 billion, according to the Corporation for National & Community Service.
"Many places couldn't get along or function without them. They really make an impact on what we do and who we are," said Julie Cunningham, who leads United Way of North Rock County's Volunteer Network.
Although it's no surprise many retirees have the time to volunteer, many working and active adults also find the time to contribute to communities in which they live.
Take, for example, the Jody Moy family of rural Janesville.
Even though Moy, 37, works 12-hour days at a prairie nursery, he serves as president of the local UW Extension Master Gardener program. Last year, he served as vice president. He also volunteers up to eight hours a month between Rotary Gardens and the Rock County farm garden plots.
"I had an interest, and it's an easy way to put in volunteer hours," Moy said.
That's important, Cunningham said.
"Think about what have you been wanting to do, what skills you have that maybe you are not utilizing and someone or a population you've always wanted to work with that's always interested you, Cunningham said.
"You want to do something you enjoy, Moy said.
Pick your target
To get started and find out about volunteer opportunities in your community, Cunningham suggested contacting the Volunteer Network, Voluntary Action Center or the Retired & Senior Volunteer Program.
"They have lots of listings for lots of different agencies and projects that work with lots of different kinds of people," she said.
Other sources for finding opportunities are churches, schools and friends who already might be volunteering, Cunningham said.
How much time?
Think about how much time you are able to give and when you want to volunteer.
"That will help decide what types of things you can do, she said. "You can't volunteer if it takes a lot of training and you're only willing to volunteer once or twice.
Moy said if volunteering is a priority, "you make the time."
Knowing how much time to volunteer depends on the person.
"There are people who can be going all day, and there are people who need extra down time, Cunningham said.
Volunteering is a time to try something new, to experience something different and to learn a new skill, Cunningham said.
If you don't have experience, a good way to learn is to volunteer as a receptionist and learn a little bit at a time.
"There are many times you can get experience doing what you'd like to learn or are not very skilled at by volunteering," Cunningham said.
Cunningham said people often don't know what fits until they volunteer for a while. If the experience isn't quite what people thought it would be, they should talk to the volunteer coordinator to see if something else might be a better fit.
"That's why thinking about what you want to do and what you want to get out of the experience is so important," she said.
Spread it around
Instead donating all your volunteer time to one project, you might consider varying efforts between different agencies, Cunningham said. That way you'll have the opportunity to meet different people and have fun learning different things.
That's what Moy's children do.
Doug, 16, volunteers with the FFA at his grandfather's farm and with his dad at Rotary Gardens and at the county farm garden plots.
Felicia, 14, donates time to FFA, the Girl Scouts, 4-H and Rotary Gardens, too.
"Why not?" Felicia said. "It's not just about what I want to do but about helping others and having fun."
Moy's wife, Christine, 36, drives bus for Head Start, where she also volunteers.
Volunteering as a family "teaches good ethics and shows children that giving back is important," Cunningham said.
Moy agreed: "It's a good experience for the kids and one I hope they take on in their lives.
If you're interested in volunteering, contact one of these local agencies:
-- United Way's Volunteer Network, 205 N. Main St. (608) 757-3058; www.uwnrc.org.
-- Voluntary Action Center, 611 E. Grand Ave., Suite 2B, Beloit; (608) 365-1278; http://vacbeloit.org.
-- Retired & Senior Volunteer Program of Rock County, 205 N. Main St., Suite 102, Janesville; (608) 756-4281 or 81 Beloit Mall, Beloit; (608) 362-9593; www.rsvp-rock.org.
TIPS FOR VOLUNTEERING
-- Research the causes or issues that matter to you. Look for a group that deals with issues about which you feel strongly.
-- Consider what you have to offer. If you enjoy outdoor work, or have a knack for teaching, you might want to look for a volunteer opportunity in which those skills will be utilized.
-- Ask your friends or colleagues about their own volunteering activities. Or try visiting your local volunteer center. Their services can help you find the right volunteer opportunity for you.
-- When you find an organization that you are interested in, request an informational interview. Be ready to describe your interests and background, and be prepared to ask the agency's staff about their organization. That will allow you to make a great match.
-- If you have questions about an organization, ask for them for a reference list of volunteers. That way you can get first-hand information from a volunteer of the organization.
-- Would you like to learn something new? Volunteering is a great way to hone a skill that you possess or provide you with a chance to learn something you're interested in or develop skills in a new area.
-- Understand that not every opportunity will fit your schedule, and look for one that does.
-- Volunteer with friends or as a family. Volunteering with others is a great way to get to know people better and can help keep you excited about volunteering.
-- Don't give up. If you find that your volunteer experience is not all that you expected, talk to your volunteer supervisor about it. Think of what might make it better, or for other possibilities with the organization. If that doesn't' work, look to another organization for a new volunteer opportunity.
Julie Cunningham, United Way's Volunteer Network
Although people in Rock County want to help, high gas prices are starting to make them think twice about how far they travel to volunteer.
"People don't want to drive as much, said Julie Cunningham, who leads United Way of North Rock County's Volunteer Network.
HospiceCare is proof of that.
"Due to the price of gas, we have had a few volunteers ask that we assign them to patients closer to their homes. However, this has had no impact on the availability of volunteers for HospiceCare patients, said Pamela Thomas, volunteer coordinator.
However, if gas prices go higher, "we're going to start seeing the effects, Cunningham said.
BY THE NUMBERS
Hours of service per year between 2005-07
Estimated annual economic contributions of volunteers hours served
People who participate in national service each year through 76 projects and programs
The amount of money to support Wisconsin national service initiatives to which the Corporation for National & Community Service will commit in 2008
Volunteer ranking within 50 states and Washington, D.C.
Percentage of residents 16 and older who perform volunteer service
Ranking of volunteer hours within 50 states and Washington, D.C.
Average volunteer hours per state resident per year