Coloradans big on volunteerism of all types

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Volunteers work to clean up the Corrall Bluffs on a regular basis. More than 32 percent of Coloradans volunteer regularly.

Volunteers work to clean up the Corral Bluffs on a regular basis. More than 32 percent of Coloradans volunteer regularly.

Colorado Springs residents are dedicated volunteers, giving millions of hours to their schools, churches, synagogues, charitable organizations and nonprofits of every kind.

Without volunteers, most local nonprofits would either collapse or curtail their activities.

More than 32 percent of people in Colorado volunteer on a regular basis each year, according to the Colorado Springs Center for Nonprofit Excellence, and Colorado ranks 17th in the nation for its percentage of the population which volunteers on a regular basis, and each volunteer averages about 50 hours per year.

Asked how many volunteer service projects the Trails and Open Space Coalition either participates in or sponsors, advocacy director Bill Koerner hesitated for a moment.

“Oh boy,” he said, “You’d have to ask (program director) Vince Cloward for a complete list. But off hand, we have our “Friends” groups in partnership with the city that help care for Red Rocks open space, Stratton open space and the Garden of the Gods, and we work with many other nonprofits and community groups that are entirely volunteer-driven.”

One such organization, the Corral Bluffs Alliance, has both ambitious goals and down-to-earth volunteer opportunities.

Corral Bluffs, located four miles east of Powers Boulevard, consists of more than 3,000 acres of scenic open space, including important archaeological and paleontological sites as well as crucial wildlife habitat. Five hundred acres of the site were recently acquired by the city as open space.

“A regional park at Corral Bluffs would preserve land that has been designated as high priority for conservation since 1985,” CBA’s Web site says. “It would also serve the needs of the rapidly expanding population in eastern El Paso County.”

“CBA has a big vision,” Koerner said, “It’s a regional park of 3,000, to 4,000 acres.”

Phyllis and Jeff Cahill head up the CBA volunteer effort.

The Cahills are the driving force, but there are lots of people who live out there who are behind the effort, Koerner said.

The invitation on the CBA Web site is open to anyone wanting to volunteer.

“Meet at the corner of Hoofbeat & Davis at 1 p.m.,” it says. “Wear old clothes, work gloves, sunscreen and tough-soled shoes. Bring your own drinking water and food …So far we’ve recycled 6 tons of metal, two and a half tons of wood, one ton of tires, three tons of concrete and numerous large boxes of glass and plastic, and we’ve filled one 40 cubic yard roll-off with trash.”

Typically, local businesses partner with nonprofits in ways large and small. This CBA project received a roll-off trash bin from Waste Management.

Bettina Swigger, the executive director of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, says that volunteers form the core of every local arts organization.

“We have an awesome board,” she said, “and of course they’re all volunteers, as well as all the other dedicated volunteers who help us. If you look at established nonprofits like the Pioneers Museum and the Fine Arts Center, you’ll see that they have very strong volunteer support groups that are essential to them.”

Without its volunteer support group, the Friends of the Pioneers Museum, the city-owned museum, would most likely have closed its doors, another victim of the city’s budget woes.

“That’s right,” said Rhonda Wooton, the city’s public programs assistant. “We couldn’t stay open without volunteers. And because of all the staff reductions, we’re asking volunteers to do things that paid staff used to do.”

More than 1,000 people belong to the Friends of the Pioneers Museum.

“We have 50 very dedicated volunteers who are the core of the organization,” Wooton said, “and another 100 who devote time to the museum. We’re always looking for more volunteers-we’ve got lots of ways to put them to work.”

“Last year volunteers contributed nearly 5,000 hours to the museum,” said director Matt Mayberry. “That’s the equivalent of two full-time employees. We couldn’t survive without them.”

It appears that the ranks of volunteers will continue to grow.

The Australian demographer Bernard Salt said that retiring baby boomers will create an eager new cadre of volunteers — with some issues.

“Baby boomers will be the first generation of educated, articulate and opinionated retirees,” Salt wrote. “Engagement is a concept that is likely to resonate with boomers in the early years of retirement. One of the stipulations that came through focus groups time and time again was that boomers didn’t just want to volunteer. They wanted meaningful engagement.”

In an attempt to match potential volunteers to nonprofits seeking their help, the Pikes Peak United Way has created a database (http://www.volunteerpikespeak.org/volunteer/) that anyone can access.

Aimee Liotino, who manages United Way’s volunteer program, said that the database is an easily navigable resource for anyone interested in seeing which volunteer opportunities best match up with their skills and time availability.

“We have listings on the site for everything from the Zoo to the Child Nursery Center,” she said, “You can search, you can browse, you can check events. It’s a very useful program, and we’ve placed a lot of volunteers with organizations that really need them.”

Earlier this week, 127 agencies sought volunteers for positions as mundane as a delivery driver and unusual as an exotic animal coordinator.

One Response to Coloradans big on volunteerism of all types

  1. Thank you for this insightful article. The good news for all nonprofits is that volunteering is on the rise in this country. It is one of the top trends in the philanthropic community thanks to a laser like focus on volunteerism from the corporate community (e.g. the Give a Day, Get a Day Disney campaign and the American Express Take Charge campaign are notable), the passing of the Serve America Act which will substantially grow the Americorps program, and the legion of Baby Boomers who are leading the way for the generations that follow into more self-directed, entrepreneurial, collaborative, and skills based volunteering.

    This amounts to a paradigm switch for nonprofits as they move away from managing volunteers to engaging them. It requires seeing volunteerism as a core organizational value and an important strategy for organizational capacity building. Staff will need to learn new ways to engage volunteers that are less hierarchical and more collaborative. Currently there is a disconnect between what Baby Boomers and Generations X and Y want in their volunteer experience and what nonprofits are offering as volunteer opportunities. If nonprofit organizations do not embrace this new way of thinking, Baby Boomers and the generations that follow will simply go elsewhere to volunteer. The time is now to make these important changes in volunteer engagement practice in order to seize this unprecedented moment!

    Jill Friedman Fixler
    Author of Boomer Volunteer Engagement; Collaborate Today, Thrive Tomorrow

    Jill Friedman Fixler
    March 10, 2010 at 9:37 am