In April, as part of National Volunteer Month, Volunteer Fairfax will host a breakfast to honor dozens of selfless residents who gave hundreds — in some cases thousands — of hours of their time last year to improve the lives of others.
The breakfast, which will be held April 18 at the Waterford in Springfield, will likely last about an hour and is sure to include some shiny plaques, a few smiles and a couple pats on the back.
While public recognition is always a good idea, it pales in comparison to what these volunteers deliver in return.
Fairfax, like many other counties in the United States, gets a critical assist from thousands of selfless citizens each year. Some of those volunteer contributions included reading to people at the Lewinsville Adult Day Center. Some went to assisting the hungry and homeless at Reston’s Embry Rucker Shelter. Still others spent dozens of hours each month trying to find homes for dogs or cats at the Fairfax County Animal Shelter.
Whether it’s delivering meals to the elderly, coaching a youth sports team, or helping in other areas — the arts, education, health and social services — volunteerism is an often-overlooked component in maintaining the county’s quality of life through difficult economic times.
The list of volunteer organizations doing good work in this region is long.
Volunteer Fairfax has been connecting individuals and corporations with volunteer opportunities since 1976. In 2011, the organization recorded approximately 50,000 volunteer hours, which translates to nearly $1.2 million donated to the community through Volunteer Fairfax programs.
According to the Virginia Employment Commission, the average value of a volunteer hour in Virginia last year was $22.03. Northern Virginia Family Services, FACETS and Reston Interfaith are just a few others that tap dedicated volunteers to deliver key services in Fairfax.
According to the Corporation for National & Community Service, about 62.8 million Americans, or 26.3 percent of the adult population, gave 8.1 billion hours of volunteer service in 2011. At $22 an hour, that time was worth roughly $173 billion to our country’s bottom line.
If there is one disappointing aspect to volunteerism, it’s that a relatively small percentage of the population — roughly one in four people — continues to put in about 90 percent of volunteer hours. That means the vast majority of us could be doing more to assist the character and well being of our neighborhoods, schools and county.
Unfortunately, not everyone sees the benefit of being involved, even if it’s an hour or two a month. Teaching a 7-year-old how to swing a softball bat or kick a soccer ball might not generate headlines, but it goes a long way toward building a youngster’s confidence and instilling a sense that practice has its rewards. Same goes for the young woman learning English at the neighborhood community center or the boy learning to put up a tent at a scouting jamboree.
In each of those cases, it’s likely that an unpaid volunteer was on the other end.
Volunteering provides a couple of major benefits. In addition to saving cash-strapped localities millions of dollars each year, it provides untold benefits to those who receive a particular service as well as those who provide it.
Thanks to all the volunteers for their good work. To the other 75 percent of our residents, this is as good a time as any to get involved.