Volunteers are priceless for local nonprofit groups
Their free labor allows many organizations to maintain their community projects.
By ANNE MARIE APOLLO, The Times-Union
Most every morning, William and Marion Libby are on the road, handing out food as part of the St. Johns County Council on Aging's Meals on Wheels program.
During the three years they've volunteered, they've seen their commitment rise from about once a week to just about every day.
Their time, and that of thousands of others like them across Northeast Florida, is crucial to nonprofit groups that otherwise might not exist or be able to provide the same level of help.
Although the Corporation for National and Community Service ranks Florida 48th nationally - estimating just more than a fifth of people in the state give their time - that doesn't match what groups dedicated to volunteerism said they are seeing in the region.
Sue Nelson, an initiatives director for Volunteer Jacksonville, said the First Coast more than tops the 27 percent national average for people who volunteer.
The 2006 Quality of Life Progress Report by the Jacksonville Community Council Inc. indicated 56 percent of people surveyed in Duval County said they volunteer. Thirty-two percent gave more than seven hours weekly, it said.
Scott VanDeman, director of communications for Volunteer Florida, said there are an estimated 212,000 active mentors in Florida. During the 2004-05 hurricane season, that swelled to 252,000 people who donated 10 million hours for disaster relief.
"The value of volunteer time locally has a great impact," Nelson said. She credits a large military population and community awareness raised by the city.
The work the volunteers perform is not always glamorous, but is necessary.
Among other things, the 25 volunteers in the master gardener program at the Nassau County Extension Office tend to a demonstration garden in Yulee, help with plant clinics in Callahan, answer phones and speak at schools.
The Clay County Agricultural Fair wouldn't be possible without such help, manager Pete Sutton said. At least 1,000 volunteers are used to stage the 10-day event.
"You couldn't afford to put on a fair of this magnitude without volunteers," he said.
While the fair relies on word of mouth to bring in volunteers, schools and service organizations often lend a hand at the Bartram Trail branch of the St. Johns County Public Library.
Youth librarian Carla Day holds regular training sessions for teens who want to volunteer to fulfill school or club requirements. Some give 10 hours, some as many as 75 hours or more, she said.
The St. Johns County Council on Aging counts about 500 volunteers, about half of whom put out meals daily through the Meals on Wheels program.
Kay Green, the council's volunteer services manager, said the number of people who help at the agency is steady.
When there is a lag, it is most often this month, after snowbirds have returned north but before educators and other school district workers are able to fill in over the summer.
That's when she relies on standbys like the Libbys, who plan to continue to help out as long as they are able.
"You get to know the people, know how they're doing and how they're feeling," said Marion Libby. "We just enjoy helping out people who are less fortunate."
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Billions in time
The cost of volunteer time nationally is estimated at $18.77 an hour. With 8.1 billion hours volunteered by Americans last year, that translates to a donation of $152 billion.
Last modified 5/12/2007 - 11:42 am
Originally created 051207