Through my work with Middlesex United Way and my previous 22 years of work and volunteer experience with other nonprofits, I have heard many people say that when someone doesn’t volunteer they don’t care enough about their community.
While there may be some truth to this, I disagree and offer that many people who don’t volunteer would do so if given the right opportunity. Many people are burdened by the challenges of their daily lives, of making enough money to pay their bills, and provide for and tend to their families’ needs.
In 1910, commenting on the importance of volunteerism in the U.S., Theodore Roosevelt referenced this same dilemma, “No one can be a good citizen unless they have a wage more than sufficient to cover the bare cost of living, and hours of labor short enough so that after a day’s work is done they will have time and energy to bear their share in the management of the community, to help carry the general load. We keep countless good people from being good citizens by the conditions of life with which we surround them.”
While this remains true for many Americans today, especially because of the recent economic downturn, I believe there are many who are willing to volunteer their time but just don’t know where to go to find opportunities that would best suit their skills and schedules.
Just recently I was reminded of this when I was asked to join a panel on volunteerism for “Community Conversations,” a show on the local public access television station, taped at the Westfield Fire District station. A good portion of the show was dedicated to the heroic work they do, and to the tremendous need they have for volunteers.
The assistant chief of the Department shared how people could contact them directly to volunteer, but also expressed how difficult it has been for them to recruit the right type of person for this unique and rewarding volunteer experience. Through our conversation during and after the taping he learned how he could reach a significantly larger audience of people through Volunteer Solutions, United Way’s online volunteer matching system.
Volunteer Solutions allows visitors to browse volunteer opportunities at local nonprofit organizations that meet their skills, interests and availability. There are one-time and on-going opportunities. You can even register your profile to receive emailed notices of opportunities as they are posted by agencies. In addition, any nonprofit organization in Middlesex County is welcome to register their agency and post volunteer opportunities
Soon after the taping, I had the opportunity to witness just how much of an impact this virtual service can have when I attended a celebration event for a local VITA program (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), a free income tax preparation program run completely by volunteers that are trained and certified by the IRS. Now in its 3rd year, the program has used Volunteer Solutions to recruit new volunteers, people who otherwise might have never known that this opportunity existed right here in their own backyard. There were more than 30 volunteers this year that helped 316 low-income individuals and families files their taxes for free as compared to 211 filers last year!
So the next time you run into someone who expresses an interest in volunteering but who for whatever reason hasn’t found the right opportunity, direct them to any number of nonprofits in your community.
Or make it easier and suggest they visit Volunteer Solutions at www.middlesexunitedway.org and click on ‘Volunteer.’ United Way will provide them with several paths towards becoming that good citizen of which Theodore Roosevelt spoke.