From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day you can typically see an increase in volunteers throughout the community. During the holiday season we tend to count our blessings and share our good fortune, be it donations of time or money. Volunteering is more than a holiday affair and is another engine that drives our economy and helps our communities to survive and grow.
When you run a quick Google search for volunteerism and the contribution to economic development, the results are mainly focused on efforts in third-world countries. What about the ability to affect our own region and enhance entrepreneurship and economic activity through volunteerism? The Corporation for National and Community Service reported that in 2010 26.3 percent of adults in the United States donated time. All together the impact of these individuals totaled 8.1 million hours or $173 billion in time contributions.
Iowans rank second among all states for the percentage of individuals that volunteer their time and 13th in the amount of time per individual as reported on www.volunteeringinamerica.com. Iowa City ranks third in the country for volunteering efforts when compared to all mid-sized cities. The Minneapolis St. Paul metro region ranks No.1 in the United States for large cities. Really making a difference through volunteerism relies on gaining from the specialized skills of the volunteers. The more people that volunteer in a variety of professions, the greater is the gain in the community overall.
Places to contribute are much greater than you may expect — www.nationalservice.gov has a search engine where you simply input your zip code and volunteer opportunities in your area as well as statewide will be displayed. I was surprised to find 137 area listings when I input 52501. Needs range from working with seniors to youth to pets, in schools as well as various nonprofit and civic organizations. Iowa is doing a great job, but more is needed.
Starting small by helping with a single event may be the best bet for those with limited availability. You may be amazed at how great you feel after giving your time for a good cause. Volunteering is also a great way to network and become socially aware. Raising a generation of volunteers as well as civic-minded individuals contributes to the long-term sustainability of a community. Obviously Midwestern values include volunteering given the rankings of Iowa and our neighboring states, let’s be sure to continue to pass along these values to our children.
Kelly Poppe-Gale is the RELI coordinator for entrepreneurship and business incubation at Indian Hills Community College. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.