Volunteers are America in Action

Time and again in my capacity as the leader of a charitable organization, I see volunteers stepping forward to help those in need. April is National Volunteer Month, but every month is a good time to reflect on the value of volunteers to our communities.

What precisely is that value? The latest estimate based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the economic value of volunteering at $23.07 an hour.(1) That's the amount an employer would have to pay an employee to get the same work done. But the value, we know, is defined most of all by the communities and individuals served.

If it weren't for volunteers, so much work that is vital to our society would be left undone. Home rebuilding projects for low-income families wouldn't happen. Young students struggling to learn to read wouldn't get tutoring and would fall even further behind. Meals for the hungry wouldn't get packed.

We are in many ways a nation of volunteers. The Corporation for National and Community Service reports that more than 62 million people in the United States volunteer, contributing 7.9 billion hours of service adding up to some $184 billion.(2)

Volunteers are important to many organizations and are the lifeblood of AARP Foundation. Our volunteers serve in a wide variety of ways. In addition to tutoring and helping low- to moderate-income people file their taxes through our Tax-Aide program, trained volunteers place calls to older homeowners at risk of foreclosure, and students in our Mentor Up program help low-income older adults stay connected to their community by keeping them up to speed on technology and social media - and just by spending time with them.

I could go on and on with examples of how volunteers are at the core of our work. Take the story of Pat Loftin, who exemplifies what so many of these helping hands do. Pat is a volunteer for our Fraud Fighter Call Center. She makes calls to potential victims of fraud warning them of the latest scams. She answers calls from fraud victims and puts them in touch with authorities who can track down fraudsters and agencies that can help the victims. Pat has volunteering in her blood. She's in her 70s now, but she's been doing various forms of volunteering since her now-grown children were young.

Like the tens of millions of other volunteers around the nation, Pat steps forward willingly for those in need. Volunteers across the nation deserve our appreciation and our gratitude, as they lift all of us up with their good work. This month provides each of us an opportunity to reflect on the importance of volunteering, not just in our organizations but also in our own lives. It's a chance to ask ourselves, can we do more?

Ethel Percy Andrus, the founder of AARP, said it best back in 1963: "We are saying to our thousands of volunteers words of appreciation for their enthusiasm; admiration for their fire, interest and energy; pride in their magnanimity that keeps alive the American spirit of neighbor helping neighbor and together helping their community become a neighborhood ... They are America in action."

(1) https://www.independentsector.org/volunteer_time
(2) https://www.volunteeringinamerica.gov/national