Today nearly 63 million Americans volunteer. They provide nearly eight billion hours of service, according to the Corporation for National and Community Service. And their work is worth an estimated $184 billion. As a result of their service, volunteers can experience increased engagement, happiness, and energy. Volunteering can also lead to decreased stress and represent an opportunity for intergenerational cooperation (see also Chapter 12, Personal and Legal Rights - Intergenerational Cooperation).
The Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, enacted in 2009, was the largest expansion of national service in a generation. It increased the annual number of national community service volunteers from 75,000 to 250,000 by expanding and strengthening service programs, including AmeriCorps and Senior Corps.
States are also recruiting volunteers to help address education, disaster relief, economic issues, and other community needs.
Aside from adequate financing, two barriers prevent taking full advantage of volunteer resources. First, many people have trouble identifying the best opportunities. Second, while older volunteers are a valuable resource, with skills and education levels that can robustly contribute to nonprofits, many nonprofits ask them to perform simple tasks geared toward a specific end, rather than truly tapping into their vast expertise.
VOLUNTEERING AND CIVIC ENGAGEMENT: Policy
Volunteering and civic engagement
Policymakers should provide expanded opportunities for people to serve their communities. This should include older adults with disabilities. Volunteers should come from culturally diverse communities.
State governments should authorize state service commissions to expand service opportunities that will help address community challenges, provide training, and build capacity in the volunteer sector.
Policymakers should allocate sufficient funds and other resources to maximize volunteer service as a solution to community needs.