REwatch: Volunteerism strengthens communities

2014-04-06T09:15:00Z REwatch: Volunteerism strengthens communitiesMichelle Krueger Times Columnist
April 06, 2014 9:15 am  • 

National Volunteer Week starts today, and with the fundamental premise of any real estate decision being location, it’s a great time to shine a spotlight on the positive impact of volunteerism.

According to, volunteerism is the policy or practice of volunteering one's time or talents for charitable, educational or other worthwhile activities, especially in one's community. Throughout history, there are many examples of federal, state and local governments recognizing the critical contribution volunteerism makes when it comes to building a strong and cohesive society – promoting volunteerism as an essential act of citizenship, a means for combating social exclusion and an important contributor to the delivery of high quality public services.

Last week, along with more than 1,750 mayors across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson recognized the impact of national service.

Addressing volunteers from RSVP, Americorps, Foster Grandparents Program and the Senior Companion gathered at the Sojourner Truth House, a non-profit organization that provides services to homeless women and their children, the Mayor spoke about the importance of volunteerism.

“Volunteerism is one of the most important ways to give back to your community,” she said. “As someone who grew up receiving services from some of these agencies like the Gary Neighborhood House, I know firsthand how the people and these organizations make a difference.”

Following her address, Mayor Freeman-Wilson spent the rest of the morning volunteering at Sojourner Truth House.

Last month, the Crown Point Community Foundation (CPCF) sponsored its fifth annual “Spring Into Action” Volunteer Fair.

“We started the Volunteer Fair after a series of community focus groups showed us that a number of organizations looking for volunteers could use some help getting the word out, while at the same time there were people looking to volunteer who didn’t know where to go to get that information,” CPCF Board member Jon Harts of SecurMAR said. “This event shines a spotlight on community volunteerism, and the participants appreciate having this once-a-year opportunity to tell their story - to explain to people what it is they do and how volunteers can help.”

When it comes to connecting people and companies to the missions of nonprofit organizations that improve quality of life by providing essential services, the United Way Regional Volunteer Center is also a great resource. Offering agencies and volunteers alike a “one-stop” shop for volunteerism in Lake, Porter/Starke and LaPorte counties at, the United Way Regional Volunteer Center strives to build community through volunteerism, and a new initiative – GetConnected – is coming soon to highlight volunteer opportunities as well as community events in one location.

The fact that Northwest Indiana is “a great place to raise a family with big city amenities without the price tag and hassles” is one of the top location selling features we have going for us. Beyond that, it’s up to each individual community to sell itself based on the key elements people search for when it comes time to buy a home and establish roots in a community, including:

• Elements that support a “good life” – good schools, good jobs, good public service and access to good public transportation.

• Elements that encourage interaction – parks and trails plus sidewalks and public plazas give people the opportunity to enjoy their community and show it off to family and friends.

These elements are what contribute to the true essence of a community. They shape the more unique characteristics of the people, culture and lifestyle. Beyond that, volunteerism strengthens a community by delivering high-quality services that impact economic development and social inclusion.

In a report published last December, the Corporation for National & Community Service demonstrates how Americans continue to strengthen their communities through volunteerism. In the state of Indiana, 28 percent of residents volunteer, ranking us 24th among the 50 states and Washington DC.

Volunteerism and civic engagement highlights for Indiana in 2012 include 37.6 volunteer hours per resident, 1.54 million volunteers, 189.7 million hours of service with $4.2 billion of service contributed. It may surprise you to learn that just 8.3 percent of Indiana residents participated in public meetings (compared to 9.6 percent for the Midwest and 9 percent for the nation). Many more voices should be heard when it comes to decision making at both the state and local levels – perhaps a new reason for you to volunteer.

There are most likely as many reasons why people volunteer as there are volunteers. Volunteerism allows people to gain experience, to promote personal growth, to give back and to make a difference. Volunteers are needed everywhere. Explore your options this week!

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