By JoLynn Miller

April is National Volunteer Week and as such the Leadership Tuolumne County Class of 2018 scheduled a service project in April.

The class is made up of community leaders from across the county who work in a variety of sectors. One of the requirements of this program is to collaboratively host a service project that will benefit the community.

This class is one of the biggest ever with 16 participants. Creating consensus on a group that should benefit from our project was a hard decision. The class proposed a project that could benefit all groups in need and have a lasting impact. By connecting people to their passions, the goal of the fair to introduce citizens to organizations with whom they may partner but why does volunteering matter to you and the community?

Volunteering is part of the fabric of our nation. From the very beginning, community members banded together to help each other out. One of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, started the first volunteer firehouse in 1736 and other efforts, often around support of the Revolutionary War, were organized.

In the 1800s, religious organizations fed the homeless and helped those less fortunate. Also, in the 1800s well known organizations started; such as the YMCA, American Red Cross, and the United Way. During the 1900s we began to see volunteering increase especially with organizations like Rotary, Lions Club, and Kiwanis. So many of these organizations were focused on helping people in need. Youth serving organizations like 4-H, Camp Fire Girls, Boys and Girls Clubs, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts got their start in the early 1900’s.

Nationally, and in California, volunteer rates increased during the 1970s through the 1990s. Numbers hit a peak in the mid 2000s. Over the last 10 years, those rates have held steady or slightly dropped. In 2015, about 24 percent of California residents (7,041,413) volunteered. This ranks California as 34th in the nation for volunteering. People in rural areas volunteer more than urban areas (29 percent compared with 24 percent).

Volunteers serve almost 30 hours per year. When combined, volunteers contributed over 940 million hours of service. Californians have donated the equivalent of $21.5 billion in service. California volunteers largely work in youth/education (32 percent) or with a religious organization (30 percent).

Over 58 percent of residents report doing a favor for a neighbor, a type of informal volunteering. Virtual volunteering is an up and coming trend that allows community members to help organizations even when they are not in town. Things like accounting, writing newsletters, website design, or social media are all jobs volunteers do virtually and usually on their own schedule. Finally, volunteers, especially teens, like to work on short term projects.

Did you know you might live longer if you volunteer? Healthier people volunteer at higher rates than those who aren’t as healthy. Research suggests that volunteering leads to improved physical and mental health.

Volunteering could serve as a path to employment, not only for teens and young adults, but for others trying to re-enter the workforce after time off. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) states that volunteers have a 27 percent higher chance of finding a job after being out of work compared to those not volunteering. If a person does not have a high school diploma, volunteering could increase their chance of finding a job by 51 percent.

While the research didn’t look into why this may be true, there could be a variety of reasons. Volunteers get experience and skill-building within the organization. When you volunteer, you build connections with others and your reputation grows.

Research suggests that communities with strong volunteerism rates are stronger and more resilient overall. Community members who volunteer act as bridges bringing people together who may not have otherwise been connected.

Local economy has positive effects when individuals receive professional development opportunities. A 2012 report from the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) explained that increased number and variety of nonprofit organizations in a community, along with positive community relationships, can help it to withstand unemployment in a recession.

The Leadership Tuolumne County Volunteer Fair will be held Thursday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the John Muir building at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds. More than 70 organizations will be there looking for volunteers.

JoLynn Miller, is a member of LTC 2018 class and is the 4-H Youth Development Advisor with University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources. She is responsible for four counties in the Central Sierra and focuses her research around volunteerism and volunteer development. Contact her at 209-533-5686 or class="Apple-converted-space">