Volunteer Surge Reported In Tough Economic Times

BERLIN – Volunteering is on the rise in Worcester County as more people feel the need to help out their neighbors and their community.

“We’ve gotten a lot more calls regarding volunteering since the economy has taken a hit,” said Worcester County Volunteer Services Manager Cyndy Howell.

People are realizing that more help is needed and feel the need to give back, Howell said. Those who have been laid off are volunteering to enhance their work skills and network, she said, but there are fewer volunteers in this category.

“I do think there’s an increased awareness of helping out at the community level,” said Claudia Nagle, executive director of Diakonia homeless shelter.  “It’s really amazing the level of service people are stepping up to offer … the numbers of people who are volunteering with us are growing.”

Some recent Diakonia volunteers are looking for a way to contribute now that they cannot afford to contribute money, Nagle said.

“We’ve had more volunteers than we’ve ever had here, about five to 10 more. We have a lot of inquiries, more than ever,” said Brigitte Saulsbury, program director for Lower Shore CASA, which provides volunteer advocates for children involved in the court system.

Howell said that some volunteers are young people, recently graduated from college, who have not been able to find paid work and have begun volunteering to gain experience.

“When people volunteer, they may meet new friends. They may acquire new skills,” said Howell.

Despite the increase in volunteering, all agencies contacted said more volunteers are needed.

“Right now, we are starting up our Worcester County Reads program in Ocean City and we are definitely looking for additional tutors to help us,” said Howell. “We’ve had a lot more requests in Ocean City for tutors.”

CASA is now serving just about half the children who could use CASA’s assistance. The program has about 40 volunteers, but could use another 10 to 20.

“We definitely need more volunteers. We have a really great group of volunteers right now. They’re truly making a difference in kids’ lives,” Saulsbury said. “We have gotten school teachers, we have a couple nurses. We’ve got some students. The biggest population is the retired individuals. They have all different backgrounds. As long as they care for children we can train them.”

Nagle added, “We could always use volunteers”, for work ranging from inputting data to fundraising.

“I also need a volunteer coordinator because I want to make sure people stay. That’s difficult because we don’t have much administration,” Nagle said.

Furnace Town Executive Director Sarah Myers said her operation is always in need of volunteer help.

“We have a myriad of jobs that need to be done here at Furnace Town,” said Myers.

Howell said part of her job with the county is to match potential volunteers with area non-profit agencies.

“Our office has gotten a lot more calls from agencies which need help with a certain thing,” said Howell. “It’s really important to match the interests and skill level to the particular organization so that both the organization and the volunteer are happy with the match. That’s a very key component.”

Volunteers are vital to many local government programs and non-profits. The county relies heavily on volunteers to enhance services at the county libraries and the recreation and parks programs.

The county’s 100-plus Citizen Emergency Response Trained (CERT) volunteers are available should an emergency such as a major hurricane strike Worcester County, but the CERT trained volunteers are also available for other tasks, such as manning upcoming flu shot clinics for the Worcester County Health Department.

CASA, except for administrative support, is all volunteer.

Two major fall events for the historic site of Furnace Town, the quilt show next weekend and the Celtic Festival the first weekend of October, are run entirely by volunteers, Myers said. Volunteers also help clean up the grounds, input data on archeological artifacts and offer to demonstrate period skills, like weaving.

Volunteers these days do much more than stuff envelopes or answer phones. Some teach, some raise funds, while others create marketing materials. Diakonia relies on volunteers to run its new thrift store on Route 611.

Some volunteers share expertise a non-profit would never be able to afford on its own.

“We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without the incredible support of the community,” said Nagle.

“Everyone has a talent to share. It’s just seeing what’s out there,” added Howell.