The lifeblood of community service: volunteers

Kathy (left) and Dennis Tully were recognized for their service with the 85th Community Service Award on Thursday, April 20. Emily Liu/The Sun

They contribute to both America’s economy and its culture

When the Haddonfield Civic Association recently honored Kathy and Dennis Tully for their service to the community, it focused on the couple’s volunteer work, hers as a fundraiser and promoter and his as a lacrosse, baseball and basketball coach.

The Tullys also acknowledged each other. “She inspires me,” Dennis said of his wife. “He’s selfless,” Kathy said of her spouse.

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With each hour they served, the couple demonstrated the need for volunteers in their community and others. Volunteerism is the lifeblood of organizations that serve the community but could otherwise not afford to hire help. The Rotary. The local VFW. The Lions Club. The school PTA. The local animal shelter. Any food pantry.

Volunteers are also necessary for events that happen at different times every year and by circumstance. A coat drive. The Christmas toy collection. A benefit to raise money for someone’s medical bills. And local fairs too numerous to count.

We’ve just passed April, which is National Volunteer Month. But volunteer service is year round, a national asset that contributes to both our economy and our culture.

For the past 20 years, AmeriCorps has collaborated with the U.S. Census Bureau to collect data on volunteering and civic engagement. It found that an estimated 23.2% of Americans – or more than 60.7 million – formally volunteered with organizations between September 2020 and 2021, despite COVID. The value of those four billion volunteer hours? About $122 billion, says AmeriCorps.

Women – especially working women – volunteer at a slightly higher rate than men, according to the organization’s 2020-2021 survey. In generational terms, Gen Xers – generally considered those born between 1965 and 1980 – had the highest rate of volunteering at 27%.

Teens are contributing with a level of volunteerism that has increased by nearly 3% in the last six years. And senior citizens are getting involved to the tune of 90 hours a year.

Parents with children under 18 volunteered at a higher rate during 2020-’21 – 30% – than those households with no children at all, which accounted for 21% of volunteers.

The numbers in New Jersey are also significant, according to the AmeriCorps survey, with 1.4 million volunteers who gave more than 100 million hours of service through state organizations. Those who contributed year-round accounted for 18%.

Often unmeasured are the personal benefits to the volunteers themselves: a sense of purpose and community; new friends; higher self-esteem; increased social skills; reduced stress; enhanced skills; and a counter to loneliness, according to the job search service

Volunteers have a 27% higher chance of finding a job after being out of work than non volunteers, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. These connections create benefits that are even more pronounced for volunteers who don’t have a high-school diploma or who live in rural areas, increasing the chances of finding work by 51% and 55%, respectively.

And let’s not forget that someday, volunteers may themselves need help: from other volunteers.

“It’s easy to give back when people are all willing to do the same for you,” noted
Kathy Tully.

And as her husband described the couple’s years of volunteerism, “It’s taken a lot of time, but it’s time well spent.”

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