NEW YORK—Caitlin Foley has gained a lot from volunteering. She attributes her volunteering partly to her family, who taught her the value of getting out and helping. She also simply enjoys it.
Foley, 24, just finished serving two one-year stints with Americorps, a volunteer position with a stipend.
The mix of volunteering and working gave her more responsibility than a less substantial volunteer role, she said.
“You are able to help more people get involved in a much deeper way than if you were just a volunteer in another way,” she said. “It’s different from someone coming in for a few hours here and there.”
She also volunteered last fall with a Community Supported Agriculture group, which distributes fresh food from farmers.
There are three different kinds of volunteers, according to a state commission report: one-shot helpers, who provide help at one event or a series of isolated events; continuing contributors, who commit to an organization for longer period of time; and deeply committed leaders, who spend a lot of time and energy assisting an organization.
Foley is a continuing contributor.
About one out of five New Yorkers contributes time or money every year, with some incorporating the sacrifice into his or her daily routine, according to 2011 data collected by the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS), a federal agency that supports civic engagement.
Some people see volunteering as a way of getting experience in a chosen field, which could lead to a job. Foley’s recent position as garden coordinator at the Expeditionary Learning School for Community Leaders led to her being hired as a college counselor at the school.
“It was a great networking opportunity with Americorps,” Foley said.
The most common reason people volunteer is out of a desire to feel good about themselves, Wendy Yondorf, director of volunteers at the Hospital for Special Surgery said during a volunteering presentation documented on the hospital’s website.
This desire is closely related to two other common reasons: wanting to serve at a place that one benefited from, and wanting to help people in one’s community. The latter has been prevalent after Hurricane Sandy.
Following the storm, thousands of volunteers traveled to different corners of the city, where they helped tear down destroyed homes and repair others.
The Island’s Eastern Shore community banded together after the storm, and has continued to help each other, according to Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.
“What we did learn from this whole sad event was that we could rely on each other,” she said.
Storm-related volunteering also continues in the Rockaways, where Doctors of the World is busy providing free medical relief.
“I cannot stress enough about the importance of having volunteers,” said Henry Chang, executive director of Doctors of the World-USA.
People on the receiving end of service also reap benefits.
“It feels so good just to have people that want to help,” said John Twoomey from outside his home in the Rockaways, where about 20 volunteers were helping clean his backyard and empty his damaged garage earlier this week.
The Power of Volunteers
New Yorkers rank 49th among the 51 largest metropolitan areas in terms of the percentage of residents who volunteer, according to CNCS.
Despite a comparatively low showing, 18 percent of New Yorkers is still a significant number. More than 2.5 million volunteers contributed 360 million hours of service—worth an estimated $7.2 billion, CNCS found.
From animal shelters to Central Park, volunteers help the city run more smoothly, contributing time, effort, and expertise.
“Volunteers are the lifeblood of the schools and shelters and hospitals and
hotlines, and are essential to the social and economic well being of the city,” said Sandy Scott, senior communications director for CNCS.
In addition to people serving with organizations, there are many millions more who serve unofficially, such as helping their neighbors. Sixty percent of New Yorkers reported helping out neighbors in 2011, according to CNCS.
National and international service organizations (such as Americorps and the Peace Corps), local governments (such as fire departments, park programs, and libraries), and nonprofits (such as the Red Cross, the National Resources Defense Council, and Habitat for Humanity) utilize volunteers for a wide range of initiatives.
Using volunteers saves these entities money while providing a way “to interject public participation into nonprofit or governmental operations and decision-making,” according to a report by the Institute for Public Service and Policy Research at the University of South Carolina.
So why is the percentage of volunteers lower in urban areas, including New York?
Research shows there is less of a community feel in urban areas due to people moving more frequently and more people living in multiunit housing, such as apartment buildings.
Foley’s observation is that “people are way too busy” in the city.
“People are very [one]-track minded in New York,” she said.
She added, I feel like they are putting work before “getting out there.”
Additional reporting from Samira Bouaou
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