Push on to increase volunteer service

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By John M. Scorsine

Many of us who read the Business Journal look for ways to give back to the community.

Often times, this need to provide service to others is expressed in our attendance at fundraisers and a multitude of social events within the Colorado Springs community. But, beyond our checkbooks and generous donations, the various organizations in our community which deliver absolutely essential services are ultimately dependent upon volunteers.

Volunteers provide service to any number of social service and public safety organizations. In fact, in Colorado, nearly 60 percent of the fire and emergency medical services are dependent upon some 9,450 volunteer responders.

Yet, across all organizations there is a crisis. There simply are not enough people volunteering their time to help. A variety of efforts have been under way to increase the critical shortage of volunteers in all sectors.

Even our own state legislature is attempting to create incentives for volunteering. In the fire service, aside from the existing volunteer firefighter pension fund, the legislature has taken up the issue of a tuition voucher system to help with the recruitment and retention of volunteers.

The federal government also has taken on the issue of increasing volunteerism. In fact, President Barack Obama last month signed into law the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. (H.R. 1388)

This historic bill is meant to expand volunteering and service opportunities throughout the country. Among its many provisions are:

Three-fold expansion of the AmeriCorps VISTA programs.

Creation of the Volunteer Generation Fund.

Creates a Summer of Service program for students in grades six through 12 with educational awards of $500 for 100 hours of service.

Establishes the Silver Scholarship Program for individuals 55 and older (in exchange for 350 hours of volunteer service you receive a $1,000 post-high school education award, transferable, if you like, to your children and grandchildren and valid for 10 years.

Expands the eligibility requirements for the Foster Grandparents and Senior Companion Programs.

Increases a number of other educational awards.

The legislation is viewed nearly universally as a welcome effort to increase volunteerism and to reinforce our national value of selfless service to others.

Sen. Orrin Hatch has said, “Volunteer service is the lifeblood of our nation. It brings out the best in our people and strengthens our communities. That is why the Serve America Act is so important. This historic legislation will inspire civic-minded Americans across the nation to raise the bar of service and meet every challenge.”

The business community has embraced the act as well.

On April 22, Hewlett-Packard released the following statement: “H.P. is very pleased that President Barack Obama has signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, a law designed to encourage volunteerism in the United States. The House of Representatives and the Senate should also be congratulated for passing the bill and fostering community service. The Serve America Act will encourage many Americans to contribute to their communities through service.”

Nonprofit organizations in our community should closely review the act to see how they might take advantage of some of the nearly $900 million appropriated to the Serve America Act programs for the next five years.

For a summary of the act’s many provisions, visit http://www.nationalservice.gov /pdf/09_0331_recovery_summary.pdf, which is part of the Web site maintained by the Corporation for National and Community Service (www.nationalserve.gov).

You also can also visit http://www.serve.gov to find volunteer opportunities using a search engine that will even help you find opportunities in El Paso County.

John M. Scorsine is an attorney at Holland & Hart LLP. He can be reached at jmscorsine@hollandhart.com.