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Fall 2012, Rosemarie Lopez

San Diego’s nonprofit organizations need more volunteers

When it comes to volunteering, San Diego ranks 28th out of 51 major cities in the United States, according to a government study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service. Despite the low ranking, many local nonprofits say they depend on the thousands of San Diegans that lend their services to the city, especially during this time of economic uncertainty.

San Diego volunteering statistics according to an annual average based on 2008-2010 data:
× More than 12,000 nonprofit organizations are in San Diego County
× 26.5 percent of San Diego residents volunteer
× 70.8 million hours of service was provided
× 32.1 hours per resident
× $1.5 billion of service contributed
Statistics provided by the Corporation for National and Community Service

Volunteering for your community
From handing out food to the needy or playing with unwanted cats, more than a quarter of San Diego residents are actively volunteering. They may rank slightly below average when it comes to volunteering rates across the country, but the effects of those who have volunteered are still making an impact on the community.

The University of San Diego’s Caster Family Center for Nonprofit and Philanthropic Research has performed research showing an increase in demand for services provided by nonprofits while their sources of revenue keep decreasing. This has made the need for volunteers especially important.

The San Diego Food Bank is one such nonprofit that relies heavily on volunteer support. Last year alone, more than 16,000 volunteers helped distribute 20 million pounds of food, according to Chris Carter, vice president of communications at the food bank.

“This would not have been possible with just our staff of employees,” said Carter, “We couldn’t function without volunteers at the food bank.”

Those who do give their time say that providing volunteer services is a fulfilling experience. Rob Blaettler, a regular volunteer at the Friends of Cats shelter near Spring Valley feels rewarded every time he goes to the shelter.

“You get to see how much of a difference it makes,” said Blaettler.

Friends of Cats is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing shelter and medical care to abandoned cats. Their goal is to find a home for every one of their healthy cats, but they also serve as a sanctuary for cats that are terminally ill and considered unadoptable. Blaettler spends his time doing what the shelter calls “cat socializing.” He plays with the adoptable cats to make sure that they are active and used to people handling them. He said that he was making a difference because even if these cats don’t get adopted, they are given the attention they deserve.

The positive side effects of volunteering
Keeping nonprofits running with the help of volunteers not only benefits the recipients of their services, but the whole community as well.

According to a study by the National Conference on Citizenship, an employed individual in 2008 was twice as likely to become unemployed if he or she lived in a community with fewer nonprofit organizations.

The same study goes on to say that communities that are more civically engaged, meaning that they work to make a difference in their area, do not have as much unemployment as the communities that do not participate in civic engagement.

Communities may lack engagement because sometimes people see volunteering as too much of a self-sacrifice. They might not realize that they receive benefits from helping others as well. According to research led by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, when people participate in their community, they become more open to forming bonds with one another. This will benefit the community because when people feel a connection to others in their area, they are more likely to work together to help their community thrive.

There may not be a shortage of people who want to help the community thrive in San Diego, but one person thinks that having a beautiful city is to blame for being ranked slightly below average in volunteering.

“San Diegans have a lot of choices to spend their time,” said Tina Rose, marketing director for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of San Diego County, “a lot of people don’t realize that there are a lot of things they could do to combine volunteering with their favorite activities.”

With a variety of nonprofits to choose from, volunteering doesn’t have to feel like work. People have plenty of opportunities to give back to the community by doing something they are passionate about. For instance, animal lovers can volunteer their time by helping animals in shelters, those interested in helping youths succeed can mentor them in afterschool programs and environmentalists, or people who simply love the beach, can participate in cleanups.

Other than helping a community thrive, one study shows that there can be another side effect to volunteering. According to research done in 2007 by the Corporation for National and Community Service on the health benefits of volunteering, there is a strong relationship between volunteering and health: those who volunteer have lower death rates, greater functional ability and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer.

There is always a need
There will always be a need for volunteers. Noemi Peña, the volunteer manager for the San Diego Blood Bank knows that communities depend on it and that is why she is always accepting applications from people who want to donate their time. She encourages everyone to be actively involved in their community.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility to give back,” Peña said.

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