Community service organizations running short on long-term volunteers


— On most weekdays, Amy Goodwin wakes up at 6 a.m. to feed the horses on the ranch she takes care of before fixing breakfast for her 21-month-old son Cole and taking him to day care. After working for 10 hours, she goes home and microwaves dinner, her husband having fed Cole, and reads to her son before they both drift off to sleep.

On Sundays, Goodwin volunteers for three hours, spending time with a 13-year-old girl from south Routt, taking her horseback riding or helping her decorate a Christmas tree.

"Volunteering is an important part of any community," she said. "Some people think it's a luxury, not a necessity."

Goodwin is the executive director of Partners In Routt County, a mentoring service for troubled young people. She doesn't believe that "I'm too busy" is a very good excuse for not volunteering.

Although volunteerism in certain sectors of Routt County, such as the hospital, is thriving, some volunteer opportunities that require longer-term commitments have floundered in recent years. Many of the people who have suffered most due to the lack of volunteers live in some of Steamboat's "bedroom communities," such as south Routt and Hayden.

Goodwin currently oversees 38 partnerships between the young people of Routt County and volunteers, some of whom are high school students. Despite the 38 partnerships, however, she still has a waiting list with 25 names on it. Of those 25 kids, 13 live in south Routt. Goodwin said that the people who refer the children to her service have indicated that there are many more young people, including about 60 in south Routt, who could use mentors.

"We have huge problems with finding volunteers in our outlying areas like south Routt and Hayden," said Visiting Nurse Association Executive Director Sue Birch. "We worry that as more people are doing more because of the needs around employment issues, they have less time to volunteer."

It wasn't always like this. After the Columbine shootings, Goodwin said her phone was ringing off the hook.

"Since then, it's slowed to a trickle," she said.

At a recent hearing to determine allocations for various members of the Human Resource Coalition, a group of volunteer organizations, members of the board had a discussion about the difficulties in finding a stable corps of volunteers.

"There are a lot of needs that occur in our community that we cannot fill," said Councilwoman Kathy Connell, who sits on the allocations board.

Connell said that the difficulty in finding enough volunteers

is connected to issues of affordable housing and wages. If people have to work two or three jobs or have hour-long commutes every day, they are unlikely to volunteer the precious time remaining in their days, she said. That ends up hurting both the communities where they live and the communities in which they work, because they have no time to donate to either sector.

"When people have less free time, they have less time to give to their communities," Connell said.

Avrom Feinberg, the Program Director of Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, is in the process of putting together a grant application to try to bring a group of federally funded volunteers to Steamboat through the Vista program. The Vista program draws on a pool of recent college graduates who are willing to spend a full year participating in a volunteer project. Those volunteers would help specific organizations build up their infrastructures and establish new programs to help local residents that could continue after they left.

But Feinberg said that housing the volunteers has been a real concern. Because the government gives only a limited amount of money to the participants for room and board, the program is compelled to find relatively inexpensive housing for its volunteers. If it cannot ensure that the volunteers will be able to secure affordable housing, the government will likely refuse the application, Feinberg said.

Those Vista volunteers could help fill the gap in Steamboat's volunteer community, bringing long-term aid to the community.

Finding short-term help, on the other hand, has not been a problem. Give people the chance to volunteer on a temporary basis, participating in a one-shot deal project, and likely a better rate of success will occur, said United Way Director Millie Beall.

"If Thanksgiving dinner was any indication, we're not doing too badly," Beall said. "We had a phenomenal response. You can get somebody to do a one-shot deal, but what's hard is to get people on a continuous basis."

Beall said that she thinks the overall pool of volunteers is dwindling.

Since she has secured full-time employment, Beall herself has been less involved in the community, skipping a number of meetings for parents at the high school, which she used to attend regularly. Those meetings used to be filled with mothers of students who had the time to discuss education issues, she said. But because so many mothers now work, they have less time to donate, she said.

"I'm putting the shoes on of those people who have full-time jobs," she said.


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