Have you ever wondered why it seems like you see the same people engaged in the efforts of your local non-profits, churches, fire companies, and youth organizations? It’s not an illusion. Those tireless souls really are involved in everything.
They not only want to be, but they have to be because no almost one else is giving up their time. For a state and a people that pride themselves on being leaders, New Yorkers, as a rule, do a poor job of showing it.
The Corporation for National and Community Service produces an annual report that looks at volunteerism rates across the nation. The Empire State ranks 50th, with just 19% of its residents volunteering; compare that to first-ranked Utah (46%) and our neighbors like Vermont (35%) and Pennsylvania (27%).
The lack of participation is pretty universal when you break down the demographics. 20% of New York teenagers volunteer, while only 14% of college-aged adults volunteer. Only 16% of those aged 25 to 34 give of themselves while those aged 35 to 44 see the highest participation rate at 24%. Jump ahead to Baby Boomers in the 55 to 64 age bracket and 20% of them volunteer in the Empire State.
What does that say about New Yorkers? We evidently have a culture that sees volunteerism as something foreign. No one is learning from lessons about self-sacrifice that they are taught in churches and high school civics classes.
Think about it: Less than 1 out of every 5 residents cares enough about our neighbors and our neighborhoods to lend a hand. That’s counterintuitive, because we should have one of the higher participation rates based on need alone.
New York is the 29th most-impoverished state in the Union (Buffalo is the third-poorest city in the US). We rank 27th in the nation in terms of disability rate. We have the 24th greatest population of senior citizens (in terms of percentage). 23% of New Yorkers drop out of school. There are almost 2,000 volunteer fire departments in the state. All of those factors scream “help!”
It’s unknown if New York’s volunteerism numbers will ever dramatically improve. One would have thought that the Great Recession would have been a wake-up call. In past economic collapses, volunteerism skyrocketed because people were compelled to help those hit hardest, they had time on their hands, and people stuck closer to – and became more interested in - their communities. That didn’t happen last time. In 2009, just as the Recession started to come to an end, New York’s volunteerism rate was right where we are now.
So, what can we do?
For starters, if you or your family have ever partaken in an event or club run by volunteers (Easter egg hunts, Boy Scout troops, little league teams, church school, etc.) or had a property or life saved by unpaid first responders, thank those who made that all possible. A simple “thank you” goes a long ways in validating their efforts.
Secondly, take the time to participate yourself. Make it a point to help others. Join a community organization. Assist a youth group. Go out of your way to make one’s day (if not one’s life) brighter. It’s challenging, fun, and extremely rewarding. There’s an unmatched joy that’s had in giving and watching others receive the services you provide. There’s a reason that the 19% do what they do. Let’s not let them hog all the fun.
From the 21 March 2016 Greater Niagara Newspapers