In communities of every size around the U.S., there are organizations that rely on volunteers to exist.
Nowadays, there are many more such entities than there were not that long ago. In turn, filling the roster with enough volunteers is an issue for many organizations who need them.
In this feature, several people who lead local organizations that utilize the efforts of volunteer workers each weigh in on the issue by providing answers to four questions: Leigh Ann Sigman (who coordinates volunteer activities for Texas County Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA), Jeff McNiell (who, when he’s not working as editor for the Houston Herald, is a ministry leader at Undivided Hearts and coaches four seasons of youth sports), Joey Moore (City of Houston fire chief) and Bennie Cook (director of the Texas County Food Pantry, Texas County Salvation Army and Texas County Emergency Services).
Why should a person consider volunteering their time?
•Sigman: “There are many reasons why a person should consider volunteering their time. Some people volunteer to give back to their community while others volunteer to fill a void in their own life. Sometimes people have a particular interest that they want to stay involved in, so they find an organization or committee to volunteer for that supports that interest.”
•McNiell: “It’s ultimately a heart issue. If you believe in serving others and putting someone else’s needs above your own, you’ll understand the importance of volunteering and giving back to your community.”
•Moore: “It gives you a way to give back to the community. It is an investment in our community and the people who live in it.”
•Cook: “I would ask, why would a person not consider volunteering? When a person volunteers, you get a chance to give back and help someone or some place in need. Taking the time to be a volunteer in a church or an organization can make a difference in someone’s life. It is very possible that an interaction you have as a volunteer in someone’s life might make them realize they are important, they can make a difference and they can achieve anything they want through hard work.
“There are three organizations I belong to that help in our area. The Texas County Food Pantry and Texas County Salvation Army serve all ages. With the help of churches and individuals we help provide families with the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing. The Lions Club volunteers are also stepping up to help families in need by fighting hunger, providing vision screenings and vision assistance, and helping provide Christmas gifts to children.”
•Hohlt: “The activity helps keep them active and socialization is also good for them. Volunteering makes you feel better.”
How would the community “lose” (or suffer) if people didn’t volunteer?
•Sigman: “The community loses a lot when people don’t volunteer. They would lose a clean community if volunteers didn’t pick up trash, meal service for the homeless if people didn’t volunteering at homeless shelters, elderly residents wouldn’t have their basic needs met without volunteers providing transportation and meal service, and our future – our children – would go underserved without Cub Scout leaders, tutors and court appointed special advocates. Most importantly, our community would lose that sense of community. A lot of people volunteer because their parents volunteered. If we are not showing our children how to care about their community and give back, then we are losing future volunteers and community leaders that would essentially make communities better places to live and raise families.”
•McNiell: “Many groups would cease to exist or be less effective without those who give of their time and talents in volunteer roles. The funds often aren’t available to compensate everyone who helps a group, so volunteering becomes vital to meeting the mission of an organization.”
•Moore: “We would not have the resources available that we have now. Between the City of Houston and Houston Rural Fire Department we have some of the best fire trucks and equipment available for a rural area. However, if we didn’t have the volunteers to drive the trucks and use the equipment it would all be worthless.”
•Cook: “If people did not volunteer, service organizations could not survive. Just look around Houston and see how many volunteer organizations we have – everything from church boards, to emergency services, to family assistance programs have to have volunteers. What would our churches do? What would we do in case of emergency? What would the families do? Our churches are typically run by volunteers who make a great impact in the church as well as in our community.
“One could make the case that every time a volunteer is helping a family get out of poverty and find a job, they are improving the local economy. In emergency services, we have to train and make plans. Without volunteers, no one would know what to do when a disaster hits.”
•Hohlt: “Programs such as Home Delivered Meals, and activities at the senior center would have to be on a limited schedule.”
It’s safe to say there are many more organizations seeking volunteers today than there were 10 years ago. How does an organization deal with that situation?
•Sigman: “In our program we ask for help; we ask civic organizations to allow us to speak to their members, we ask churches to allow us to speak to their congregations about what our volunteers do and why it is so important to have volunteers in the CASA program. We also volunteer in the community so people can see that CASA is active and wants to help in our communities any way that we can.”
•McNiell: “It’s a dilemma without an easy answer. You do your best to communicate the vision of the group and hope people will see it, support it and get involved. But the truth is often times we do our best with limited resources and not enough help.”
•Moore: “I think one way to deal with that situation is to be thankful for the volunteers that you do have and make sure they feel appreciated for what they are doing.”
•Cook: “This is a very tough situation to deal with. There is an emergency services department that has seen a 50-percent reduction in volunteers in the last three years. This definitely impacts emergency services, but they are not the only ones dealing with reduction. Our service organizations have seen a drastic reduction as well. Sometimes an organization has to cut back the amount of services it can provide to a community because of a lack of volunteers.
“The Texas County Food Pantry has taken on new programs in the past three years. We have generated some new volunteers, due to people seeing the need for the program. We have some people who are volunteering for multiple programs and organizations just to keep them going, in hopes that some day a new volunteer will come on board and want to take it over.
“The best thing an organization can do is advertise the need for volunteers using the local media, social media, newsletters and sometimes just word of mouth.
“It’s also important to show how your organization is impacting lives. All it takes is for a potential volunteer to hear the great things your organization is doing and they could decide to be a part of it.”
•Hohlt: “There is Volunteer Match.com that has been helpful to our organization. Look for different ways to have staff do these items. I hope people find some interesting ideas for this puzzling question.”
How does a person pick an organization to volunteer for?
•Sigman: “Every person has to pick an organization that they care about or that they have a common interest in. If your heart’s not in the volunteer work, you won’t stay with that program or organization. So many times people are in a work field that does not satisfy their inner-most needs due to financial reasons. As a volunteer, you get to ‘pick’ where your time is spent and the organization or program wants you to be happy being a part of their ranks so you will recruit others that are like-minded.”
•McNiell: “Find something you’re passionate about. If you believe in the mission of the organization, find ways to help. Several people contributing in little ways adds up to a big impact.”
•Moore: “If a person is interested in something they should try it out. If it doesn’t work out for them, then they can move on to another organization until they find something they enjoy doing. You won’t know until you get out there and try it out.”
•Cook: “You have find the organization that best fits you. Not every organization is for everyone. The volunteer really needs to look into an organization – check out its mission, its volunteer activities and how it’s involved in the community. A person might even want to volunteer for a week or two to see how things go and then decide if a situation is right for them. Ultimately, the volunteer should make sure they feel like a part of the team and enjoy themselves.”
•Hohlt: “It’s important to choose one that provides valuable positions that a volunteer enjoys and makes them feel like they are part of the big picture.”