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Boise State — Instilling a Spirit of Service

A new report, released a few weeks ago by the United States Department of Labor, indicates that volunteering declined in 2013, to its lowest level since data was first collected ten years ago. Nearly 62.2 million Americans volunteered at least once between September 2012 and September 2013, falling 1.1% since the year before. The report provides no indication as to the forces driving the decline, and it is unclear whether the decline represents a temporary blip or an unwelcome trend.
student volunteering at the Idaho Foodbank

When measured by age, adults 18-24 exhibited the lowest levels of volunteer participation, running a great deal below teens and those over 30. Although this number is disheartening, it is likely that the time-consuming nature of college, which can act as a barrier to potential student volunteers, is one culprit. Understanding and reducing this barrier could provide a great opportunity for universities to become a gateway to volunteerism.

Fortunately, for Boise State students, Boise State University has embraced this opportunity. Boise State University has become a gateway to volunteerism, offering a plethora of opportunities to get involved and volunteer within the community. Idaho is a tremendously volunteer-friendly state; in 2012, its volunteer rate put it at third in the nation. In other words, volunteer opportunities abound, and many exist just outside the steps of our beautiful campus.

To assist students in connecting with community organizations seeking volunteers, Boise State University Service-Learning has created the Community Engagement portal in OrgSync. This helpful and continually updated page provides a friendly list of volunteer options around the Treasure Valley. There are one-time events, as well as options for those seeking an ongoing volunteer experience.

In addition to the Community Engagement portal, students are encouraged to participate in Service Saturday, a monthly event orchestrated by the Student Involvement and Leadership Center. Service Saturday provides all Boise State students the opportunity to spend a few hours positively impacting the community. As students who have participated in the past can attest, Service Saturday is a fun and meaningful way to spend a Saturday morning. Plus, everyone involved gets a free breakfast. Any college student would be hard pressed to say no to that.

students volunteering with the Department of Labor

In many ways, this country depends on the efforts of volunteers, which is why the Department of Labor’s report is a somewhat gloomy one. While the sheer number of volunteers (62.2 million) is undeniably praiseworthy, the decrease in the volunteer rate represents a lot of valuable work that isn’t getting accomplished. Just how much do volunteers contribute? The question is difficult to answer, because volunteers provide a host of intangible benefits.  A coalition of 600 nonprofit organizations has attempted to calculate the dollar value of total volunteer work in the country. The number they found is staggering. In 2011, volunteers gave 7.9 billion hours of volunteer service worth $171 billion. That’s quite the breathtaking figure, and there’s no doubt it fails to capture—and thereby understates—the positive impact volunteering has on our communities.

Volunteering is good for the volunteer, too. As it turns out, volunteering is good for your health. A review of the research, which you can read here, shows that those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression. Along similar lines, a study published in Social Science and Medicine found that volunteers report higher levels of well-being. In other words, volunteering makes you happy!

The benefits of volunteering, to everyone involved, are clear and the importance cannot be overstated. There’s only one question that remains—what will you do to serve your community?

– Samuel Wonacott, Boise State University Service-Learning

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