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National Volunteer Week spotlights how we strengthen our communities

By Susan Vanden Heuvel, Executive Director, Volunteer Fox Cities

When it comes to giving back through volunteering, one of the key phrases of the past year has been adaptability.

Make a Difference Day: projects!

As nonprofits worked to adapt their programs and services to the new normal of a COVID-19 world, the community was adapting to how they chose to give back as they kept health and safety at the forefront of their minds.

Now moving closer to a post-pandemic normal, there have been some exciting trends developing in volunteering that, if they continue, will strengthen our community in ways we have not seen before.

Team Miron Construction volunteers at Beaming

Not surprisingly, when the safer at home order went into effect in March 2020, the amount of volunteer hours decreased drastically. Thanks to nonprofits being able to adapt and create virtual opportunities, along with making safety adjustments to their in-person services, there has been a steady increase of volunteers connecting to opportunities that began in October and has not slowed down since. According to Volunteer Fox Cities’ Get Connected platform, January 2021 had more volunteer opportunity views (almost 8,000 views) than any month going back to five years before the coronavirus lockdown.

Team U.S. Venture volunteers at Pillars

Much of this increase is due to the increase in the trend of generational volunteering. In the past, the volunteer force was made up of larger contingent of older adults and high school youth. These age groups continue to volunteer in large numbers, but now the generations in between are prioritizing volunteering as well. In a Points of Light study from September 2020, 82% of all people polled said they MUST get involved in volunteering to rebuild the country and economy, and this impact is already being felt.

For instance, in 2020, 13 dedicated RSVP volunteers (Retired & Senior Volunteer 55+ Program) built and rehabbed 15 houses for Habitat for Humanity, serving more than 2,000 hours. Likewise, Volunteer Fox Cities was able to run two Give Back Mystery Mission events in the last six months that consisted of over 120 volunteers of all ages participating in volunteer projects at 14 Fox Cities nonprofits that contributed $7,500 of economic impact.

Team Wipfli at Riverview Gardens

Another exciting development is the rise of specialized volunteering. Many nonprofits had to make hard decisions about staff and services due to budget shortages. Volunteers from the community were able and willing to take the skills they use in their everyday lives, and now use those skills to fill the gaps that were created by these cuts. From tutoring to mentoring, environmental causes to caring for those in need – and everything in between – volunteers have become engaged in ways that are growing the community and, now more than ever, we need that continued engagement.

Author and activist Coretta Scott King once observed, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” In a year when the world turned upside down, this community stepped up and showed its greatness! If you are looking for a way to connect with a meaningful volunteer opportunity, please visit our Volunteer Fox Cities website.

As part of National Volunteer Week, we are highlighting the importance and the impact of volunteer service and the power of volunteers to build stronger communities in the Fox Valley Region and beyond. Throughout this week, we’ll announce the winners of Celebrating Volunteers on Facebook

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