Help Iowa become the top volunteer state

Posted October 3, 2012 at 10:50 am

By Kim Brooks, Express Editor

Governor Terry Branstad and Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds are asking all Iowans to put in 50 hours a year on various volunteer projects. To initiative, called “Volunteer Iowa: A Call to Service,” is a way to increase volunteerism in Iowa. Branstad seeks to make Iowa the national leader in volunteer service by the year 2015.

According to a press release, the idea is to “focus on volunteer expansion in Iowa’s most pressing areas throughout the state while focusing on the administration’s goals of becoming the healthiest state in the nation, having the best schools and growing Iowa’s economy.”

Branstad stated, “Volunteerism is an integral part to the state’s future and well-being. Our objective for the ‘Call to Service’ is to increase the number of Iowans who are volunteering as well as the number of hours that they serve. Iowa currently ranks second in the nation in volunteerism, and just as we want to become the healthiest state in the nation and have the best schools, I know Iowa can lead the nation in volunteerism as well.”

The idea is to work alongside non-profits and other organizations to help increase “volunteer supply, demand and retention, mobilize communities and generate targeted tactics to expand volunteerism in Iowa.”

Reynolds added, “It is our hope that Iowans will embrace the ‘Call to Service’ initiative and do what Iowans do best, which is giving back to their local communities. We want to mobilize and connect Iowans with meaningful volunteer opportunities in their communities and challenge the private sector to support and help strengthen Iowa’s volunteer infrastructure.”

Along those lines of connecting Iowans to volunteer opportunities in their respective areas, Monticello and Jones County has a plethora of ways to actively volunteer. Just this past weekend on Sept. 30, it took dozens and dozens of volunteers to help pull off a successful open house and pancake breakfast at Camp Courageous of Iowa.

Shannon Poe, the camp’s volunteer director, said it takes all kids of volunteers to just keep the camp up and running from day to day.

“We can’t function without our volunteers,” said Poe.

People can lend a hand at camp in the visitors’ center, offering tours of the camp, assisting during respite care weekends (Fridays through Saturdays), helping inside the camp store, greeting people during events such as the pancake breakfast and annual car show, working the front desk inside the pool area, assisting in the kitchen and more. There are also specific volunteer opportunities, tailored to one’s talents: grant writing, carpentry projects, landscaping, working in the camp’s zoo, etc.

To become a volunteer counselor, Poe said you have to be at least 16 years of age. Those 12 and under must have a parent with them when volunteering.

All volunteers simply have to just fill out a questionnaire so the camp knows exactly where to place them within the camp. Those looking to become a counselor have to have a background check as well.

“There’s a need all year-round,” said Poe. “We take groups of volunteers as well as families and individuals who want to help.”

With so many volunteers coming and going, Poe said it is near impossible to track how many volunteers there are at the camp. She said some people do a lot behind the scenes, like hosting fundraisers.

“We can’t function as well as we do without our volunteers,” Poe added. If the camp were to pay those that volunteer their time, Poe said the camp wouldn’t be able to offer so many opportunities to its campers.

“As a non-profit, we like to keep our focus and goals on our campers,” said Poe, “to offer them a safe and enjoyable environment.”

Those volunteering at Camp Courageous receive an eye-opening experience to the challenges the campers face. “It gives volunteers a new perspective,” added Poe.

Another group worthy of your time is the Monticello School District’s athletic booster club. They manage and staff the concession stand at every home event and provide the manpower of home athletic events (timers, scorekeepers, etc.).

“They’re always there when we need them,” expressed Tim Lambert, the school activities director.

Lambert said people really have no concept of just how many volunteers it takes to have a successful athletic event here in Monticello.

“It is all volunteers,” he said. On average, Lambert estimated it takes between 35 to 50 volunteers. “It’s amazing!”

With Branstad asking Iowans to put in 50 hours a year of volunteer service, Lambert said booster club members put in 50 hours in two weeks.

“We couldn’t run this well if we had to pay everyone,” Lambert said.

They have people selling tickets to sporting events, working in the press box, announcing games and staffing the food stand.

“We’re always looking for people,” Lambert alluded to. “You don’t have to be an expert to volunteer.”

Those who are part of the Jones County Safe and Healthy Youth Coalition are all volunteers, spanning just about every town in Jones County.

“We’re more active now than ever,” said Jennifer Husmann, project coordinator for the Coalition.

Ways to volunteer with the Coalition include mailings, fundraisers, working with youth advisory groups, assisting with Burma Shave signs around the county, taking photos at the various Coalition events, writing articles on the Coalition’s efforts, grant writing (which helps fund the Coalition), attending meetings and be a part of a subcommittee, help distribute posters and table tents to businesses in your community or just spread the word about all that the JCSHY Coalition is doing for Jones County.

“We’re a community-based organization,” said Husmann, “so it takes the community to get involved and have a heart for the issues we are passionate about and the kids.”

With the Coalition focusing on substance abuse, alcohol and drugs, Husmann said they strive to keep Jones County safe for its youth.

“People want to feel they’re making a difference,” said Husmann. “Our volunteers are invaluable to us and allow us to accomplish so much more.”

No matter what your talent or skills may be, Husmann said there is always a place within the Coalition for a volunteer.

These are just a few of many, many ways one can lend a hand within this community. So, let’s help Iowa lead the way in volunteerism!